Ms Runa Laila, SAARC Goodwill Ambassador for HIV/AIDS

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Ms Runa Laila, SAARC Goodwill Ambassador for HIV/AIDS made official visit to India from 31st July to 2nd August 2013, with the objective to extend support to the cause of HIV/AIDS especially on the issues of Stigma and Discrimination related to People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV). Ms Runa Laila from Bangladesh has been conferred the honorary title of SAARC Goodwill Ambassador by SAARC Secretariat for the next two years along with Shri Ajay Devgan from India and Ms. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy from Pakistan.

During the visit, Ms Runa Laila called on Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare. Shri Azad extended a warm welcome to Ms Laila and congratulated her on being appointed as SAARC Goodwill Ambassador for HIV/AIDS. During the meeting various important issues relating to HIV/AIDS for the benefit of marginalized people of the SAARC region were discussed. Shri Azad briefed about the internationally acclaimed success of the India in HIV programme especially the commendable scale up in testing and treatment services, the prevention of parent to child programme and the migrant strategy. They also discussed about the need for enhanced scale of care, support and treatment services for eligible HIV infected persons and requirement of initiating Regional action to tackle cross border issues on HIV/AIDS and TB/HIV co-infection.

Ms Runa Laila visited Shri Salman Khurshid, Minister of External Affairs, who congratulated her on her mission to spread awareness on HIV/AIDS in the SAARC region. He also mentioned her visit to India will help in spreading awareness for the disease in region. A visit was made to the Department of AIDS Control where Ms Laila had interaction with Shri Lov Verma, Secretary, DAC and Ms Aradhana Johri, Additional Secretary, DAC on regional HIV/AIDS scenario and India’s role controlling the epidemic. The DAC team made a presentation to Ms Laila on the HIV/AIDS programme in the country highlighting on different interventions being implemented for reversing the epidemic.

To understand the different services provided to PLHIV, Ms Laila visited an ART Centre at LNJP Hospital, which is one of the first ART centres in the country that has been upgraded as Centre of Excellence in HIV care now. This centre is providing free HIV treatment to more than 2000 HIV infected people. She interacted with the beneficiaries and appreciated the high quality care being provided to PLHIV without any Stigma & Discrimination. She was happy to note that PLHIV are being counselled effectively to ensure high level of adherence to ART which is very critical for long term continuity of first line ART. Ms Laila also visited HIV Counselling and Testing Centre at Dr B R Ambedkar Hospital, Rohini and interacted with pregnant women availing services. She interacted with the service providers (counsellors and doctors). She appreciated the prevention of parent to child transmission (PPTCT) programme being implemented by the government. She also had an interaction with HIV positive pregnant women.

Addressing the press, Ms Runa Laila appreciated the efforts made by the Department of AIDS Control which has resulted in reduction of new HIV infections by 57% during the last decade. She also mentioned that prevention and treatment strategies have yielded good impact as reflected in the reduction in new HIV infections as well as AIDS related deaths in the country. As a message to community she emphasized that all pregnant women should get themselves tested for HIV, and if found positive, should start ART to prevent transmission to the new born. Ms Aradhana Johri, Additional Secretary, DAC, reiterated the message given by Ms Laila about prevention of parent to child transmission. Ms Johri mentioned that SAARC countries may learn from India’s experience to control the spread of HIV/AIDS in the region.

In the capacity of SAARC Goodwill Ambassador on HIV/AIDS, Ms Laila would be contributing towards creating awareness on HIV/AIDS through public appearances using different platform. She would address the issues of Stigma and Discrimination prevailing in the community of SAARC Member States including mainstreaming HIV/AIDS to form part of development agenda and advocate for affordable treatment, care and support for PLHIV, facilitating fund raising from within and outside the SAARC region.