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UNAIDS top head to visit India, meet PM


New Delhi : On his first trip to India, the head of UNAIDS will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and senior ministers to emphasize India’s continued support against HIV and AIDS.

Michel Sidibe, the executive director of UNAIDS, will arrive Oct 7 in India and will also visit Mumbai and Bangalore.

“The visit is to recognize and support the achievements of India’s AIDS response. He will also discuss progress made towards achieving the goal of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support as well as the Millennium Development Goals in India,” a statement issued here by UNAIDS said.

During his six-day visit, Sidibe will focus on maintaining and sustaining India’s response at a time of global economic and financial turmoil and when many other health and development challenges compete for attention and resources.

Sidibe, who is also under secretary-general of the United Nations, will meet the prime minister, who is head of the National Council on AIDS formed in 2005. The aim will be to monitor progress made by health agencies in preventing the spread of HIV in India. The date of the meeting is yet to be confirmed.

The UN official will also meet Oscar Fernandes, who heads the Parliamentarians Forum on HIV/AIDS.

Sidibe will also meet representatives from the private sector, civil society, people living with HIV and UN agencies.

“His visit will be instrumental in re-instilling the need for comprehensive HIV programming to include treatment, care and prevention. His visit also has an important regional context, as one half of Asia’s estimated people living with HIV and AIDS are Indian,” the statement said.

Approximately 5.2 million people in South Africa and 2.6 million in Nigeria suffer from HIV/AIDS, followed by 2.3 million in India.

Charles Gilks, UNAIDS country coordinator, had earlier told IANS: “His (Sidibe’s) visit will focus on the need for sustained support to the programmes by the Indian government.”

“If finances are not available for fighting HIV and AIDS, there is a fear that the epidemic might return. Globally, so much money has been spent. All this could be a waste and many lives will be lost if we become complacent now,” he added.

According to UNAIDS, there were around 33 million HIV positive people globally, while there were 2.7 million new infections and 2.0 million deaths from AIDS in 2007.

UNAIDS works closely with the Indian government, NGOs, community groups and people living with HIV to increase access to HIV prevention and treatment services, with a special focus on those most at risk.