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Political boost to war on AIDS

New Delhi, July 26: The presence of a galaxy of politicians at a national convention on AIDS today held out hope that the disease would be combated by preparing early and that budgets will be allocated and legislation enacted to help patients.

But the hope that patients will be able to live with the disease is tempered by the realisation that there is a stigma attached to the disease and AIDS sufferers have to contend with discrimination at every turn.

Top political leaders turned up at India’s first National Convention of the Parliamentary Forum on HIV/AIDS. Such an event would have never figured on their agenda even a couple of years ago.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee inaugurated the function with his deputy L.K. Advani attending the post-lunch session. Leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi delivered the keynote address while Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi assured participants of Parliament’s commitment in fighting the disease.

“At the end of 2001, newly infected adults and children across Asia and Pacific brought the total number of people living with HIV/AIDS in this region to over seven million. We are particularly concerned that of this (seven million) India has over four million men, women and children living with the virus,” Vajpayee said.

“In Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Manipur and Nagaland HIV prevalence has reached over 1 per cent among women in the ante-natal clinics,” he added.

Banta, from the Network of Persons living with HIV/AIDS, said: “We do not know what will be the outcome of this political initiative. The political leadership involved in the campaign is educated but not aware of the nuances of HIV/AIDS.”

Banta and his Network colleagues attended today’s meeting clad in black to protest discrimination against AIDS sufferers.

Until now, most of the resources in the fight against the disease has been used to fund ways to prevent AIDS. Healthcare and support for AIDS patients have been somewhat neglected.

Loon Gangte from the Sahara Centre for Residential Care and Rehabilitation said: “The meeting signals a good start. At least political leaders have realised we also exist.” He does not know how far the initiative will go, but is glad that politicians are ready to speak about people living with HIV/AIDS.

Abraham of the Network says: “We face the worst kind of discrimination in health-care services.

Politicians at the convention said they would battle this discrimination. Eight chief ministers, health ministers, MPs, MLAs and panchayat members are attending the two-day meeting.

Delegates from the Network were critical of some of the references made by political leaders. “Sometimes they can… paint an ‘Us and them’ situation,” said Abraham.

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