Kamal Haasan campaigns for HIV/AIDS

Chennai, Nov 29 (IANS) The United Nations Thursday roped in thespian Kamal Haasan to be the agency’s ambassador in its campaign to reduce stigma and address the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Addressing students of the Justice Basheer Ahmed Sayeed College for Women here Thursday, Kamal Haasan said, “Today should be the start of a movement. A movement that brings people together in pledging their support for people living with HIV/AIDS.”

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The essence of the campaign is a pledge written by Kamal Haasan in Tamil, which begins with “Ini oru vidhi seivom” (let’s make a new beginning – a line made famous by Tamil poet Subramania Bharati), “Let’s make it right”.

Kamal Haasan went on to make a moving promise: “People living with HIV have the same rights as I do. To live, to grow, to learn, to dream and to be a part of my world. I promise to uphold their rights and to give them strength in their times of need. I have the power to make our world a fairer, kinder and a better place to be.”

“The UN across the globe works to ensure that the basic human rights of every individual are protected,” said Pieter Bult, coordinator of the UN team in Chennai, ahead of the world AIDS Day Dec 1, in an effort to combat the infection.

“We are happy today to see the extraordinary participation of people of all walks of life coming together in pledging their support to people living with HIV,” he added.

The UN team here and Tamil Nadu State Aids Control Society (TANSACS) in association with Heroes Project, partner NGOs and the networks of people living with HIV, also launched a multi-media campaign in their second phase of awareness building.

“People living with HIV/AIDS are often subject to discrimination and stigma that can permeate every aspect of life-employment, medical treatment, the care and custody of children, and other social relationships,” an organiser said.

Tamil Nadu has an estimated 160,000 people living with HIV and for the last two decades has been the focus of the UN’s AIDS initiative in India.

The prevalence of AIDS in Tamil Nadu has come down to 0.37 percent after sustained campaign and at present more than 25,000 affected people are getting anti-retroviral therapy.

“The number of new infections has come down. However, there is still a lot to be done to stop discrimination of people living with HIV,” said Supriya Sahu, TANSACS project director.

“This is why, the campaign launched today is focusing on changing the behaviour towards people living with HIV, mainly of service providers – such as medical staff, headmasters, teachers, companies and other service providers.

“But the campaign should reach out to as many people as possible,” she added.

Talking about his participation in the campaign, Kamal Haasan said, “I am happy to be used as a tool for a purpose that is very important. It is my duty to ensure that people living with HIV get their rights.”

“They (people with HIV/AIDS) are our brothers and sisters”, he said, adding, “please help me and be my partner in this very important movement”.

“The HIV /AIDS infected people are not only deprived of the right to life, but also the right to liberty and security, the right to healthcare, right to shelter and property, the right to freedom of movement and the right to be treated with equality, at par with everyone else,” said Bult.

The HIV/AIDS programme in Tamil Nadu is centred around the study of trafficking of women and children in tsunami affected districts, spreading awareness and training for awareness campaigns, strengthening positive networks across the state, livelihood support, school campaigns, peer educator training, prevention of mother to child transmission and supporting legal aid clinics.

The “Let’s Make It Right” campaign is being taken to 30 districts in Tamil Nadu and a platform for online involvement at www.letsmakeitright.in has also been provided.