New Delhi: The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has been rigorously working towards leading the world to achieve its shared vision of zero new HIV infections and ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Talking about India, the country has reported a significant decline in the HIV prevalence trend since the epidemic’s peak in the year 2000 (0.55 per cent) and has been stabilising in recent years (0.21 per cent in 2021), according to National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) Estimates 2021.
Some of the big wins in the past decade have been leadership-related. In India, J.V.R.Prasada Rao, former Union Health Secretary, has been leading the AIDS-free campaign in the South Asian region. Mr Rao was appointed as United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for AIDS in Asia and the Pacific in July 2012. He was the director of India’s National AIDS Control Organization for five years before serving as India’s Permanent Secretary for Health and Family Welfare.
Speaking to the NDTV-Banega Swasth India team on the occasion of World AIDS Day 2022, Mr Rao spoke about the transition in the last 20 years regarding HIV/AIDS awareness. He said that in the initial stages of the program, there were a large number of people who were becoming victims of the disease, and the depth of political support needed at the time was not coming. He said,
Despite several people losing their lives to HIV/AIDS, the country was still living in denial. However, in the last 20 years, we have brought it to a stage where we can be proud of running one of the most comprehensive and successful HIV/AIDS programs in the world.
Mr. Rao stated that India managed to control the rise in new HIV infections in the last two decades (2000–2020).
There is a complete change in the course of the epidemic.
Mr. Rao has consistently advocated for the empowerment of the communities that are vulnerable to HIV and frequently lack access to adequate services. He said that this remains one of the biggest obstacles to obtaining the vision of zero new HIV infections and ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. He said that these vulnerable communities, also known as the key population, bear the brunt of the epidemic.
Mr. Rao quoted the recent estimates of UNAIDS that have shown the Asia-Pacific region to have around 95 per cent of the new infections occurring among people at the bottom rung of the economic and social ladder—sex workers and their clients, gay men, transgender persons, drug users, prisoners, etc. He further said,
Unless we target these key communities with awareness, prevention, testing, and treatment programs, the SDG goal is difficult to achieve. We also need to look at the legal environment that surrounds these communities in order to decriminalise the behaviours so that they can be and act like any other citizen and access all of the HIV/AIDS benefits that are available.
In terms of India’s financial capability in taking up the fight against HIV/AIDS, Mr. Rao said,
Funds will not be the problem in India, but the program’s implementation is the issue—how will we use the funds dedicated to the cause?
Mr Rao said that in the last 10 years, an entire new generation of people between the ages of 10 -18 were born without any knowledge of HIV or AIDS. He said it was a huge risk factor that needed to be addressed.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.