UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassadors shine spotlight on HIV in BRICS countries and beyond

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UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassadors shine spotlight on HIV in BRICS countries and beyond

12 October 2011

Panellists in the session included (from left to right): Women’s World Cup champion Lorrie Fair; Russian HIV activist Alexandra Volgina; Chinese television news anchor James Chau; UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé; and Indian actress Preity Zinta.

On the opening day of the International Forum on MDG-6 in Moscow, Indian actress Preity Zinta, women’s World Cup champion Lorrie Fair, Russian HIV activist Alexandra Volgina and UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé engaged in a lively discussion on how to turn the Millennium Development Goal 6 (MDG-6) into reality. The panel session, moderated by Chinese television news anchor James Chau, highlighted the important contribution by BRICS countries to the HIV response, and also the challenges ahead to achieve an AIDS-free generation.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—often referred to as the “BRICS” countries—are home to 40% of the global population and nearly one third of all people living with HIV in the world.  While all BRICS countries have made progress in expanding HIV prevention and treatment services for their populations, the goal of universal access remains a critical challenge: In four of five BRICS countries, for example, only one third of people eligible for HIV treatment are receiving it.

With Eastern Europe and Central Asia facing a significant number of new HIV infections among people who inject drugs, Mr Chau, a UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador, highlighted China’s national achievements in expanding harm reduction services. “Last week, I visited a methadone maintenance therapy clinic and saw first-hand how access to harm reduction is changing lives,” he said. Mr Chau noted that after years of a zero tolerance policy on injecting drug use, China began its harm reduction programme in 2005 and now has more than 700 clinics offering methadone maintenance therapy.

In India, the film industry has incredible influence and reach. So does cricket—the most popular sport in my country. If we succeed in using both mediums to spread awareness around HIV prevention, we will not just have healthier populations, but more caring ones too

Preity Zinta, actress and UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador

A supporter of social equality, Ms Zinta, who is also a Goodwill Ambassador for UNAIDS, cited the sports and film industries as important platforms to reach people of all ages with HIV prevention messages. “In India, the film industry has incredible influence and reach. So does cricket—the most popular sport in my country. If we succeed in using both mediums to spread awareness around HIV prevention, we will not just have healthier populations, but more caring ones too,” she said.

Ms Volgina, an advocate for the women’s network EVA, shared a personal story of the stigma she has faced as a woman living with HIV. “I have a goal to try and change HIV policy in Russia, so that when children impacted by AIDS—like my own daughter—reach school age, they won’t be discriminated against in any way,” said Ms Volgina, who recently gave birth to an HIV-negative baby. Ms Volgina highlighted how the HIV epidemic in the Russian Federation continues to grow, and increasingly affects women.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé and Indian actress and UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador for India Preity Zinta

Ms Fair brought the discussion to South Africa, where she is currently working for the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project in the rural area of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Her work supports the use of mobile health units to provide HIV treatment, testing and counselling, education, and basic health care for communities spread out over great distances. “Bringing these services directly to people who need them is an important strategy to curb the HIV epidemic—not only in South Africa, but in any place where people would otherwise not have access,” said Ms Fair.

The UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé emphasized that people—not data or statistics—must be at the centre of efforts to reach MDG-6. “What inspires and guides my work are women like Alexandra who are breaking new ground in the AIDS response in Russia,” said Mr Sidibé. Achieving the UNAIDS vision of Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination and Zero AIDS-related deaths is “entirely possible” in Russia and beyond, he said.

The International Forum on MDG-6 is a three-day meeting hosted by the Russian Federation in collaboration with UNAIDS, the World Bank and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Its aim is to foster a strategic discussion among key stakeholders on how to mobilize resources and partnerships to achieve MDG-6.