Local leaders from across rural India are to draw up an action plan to help stem the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in villages, where the majority of new infections are occurring, officials said on Monday.
AIDS agencies say that of the 5.2 million people infected between the ages of 15 and 49 years in India, almost 60 percent are in rural communities, where poverty, ignorance and gender disparities have left people more vulnerable to the disease.
They add that village and district administrators have the power to spread awareness at the grassroots.
“AIDS is a disease of intimacy. It has to do with the things which are most hidden and most personal, which are not easily addressed at the level of the country’s capital,” Denis Broun, UNAIDS country coordinator for India, told a news conference.
“It is very important to come closer to the people and this is the reason why there is an important movement in getting the engagement of these people who are closest to the population and who are their immediate representatives,” he said.
Broun said representatives from 620 districts, as well and mayors and other community leaders, would come together for the first time at a convention on Tuesday to draw up a strategy on how India could strengthen its local response to the pandemic.
In India, elected rural councils known as “panchayats” are entrusted with managing community services, public health and family welfare.
“This convention is about garnering political leadership towards a cause,” said Sujatha Rao, director general of the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO).
“They are the ones who set the pace and influence opinions in their respective constituencies and districts,” she added.
Rao said community leaders could talk out against discrimination against those infected with HIV/AIDS, help promote the use of condoms and in some cases decide to make HIV/AIDS a priority when allocating funds from local budgets.
Revision date: June 14, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.