A unique event brought together more than 15,000 sex workers and peer educators from Mumbai and Thane to demonstrate their solidarity against HIV/AIDS.

The event know as ‘Atmavishwas’, (faith within) was organized by Aastha Project of Family Health International, Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society (MDACS). Atmavishwas demonstrated the central role played by the sex worker community in driving HIV prevention efforts. Held at the MMRDA grounds, Bandra Kurla Complex, the event featured appearances by A-list societal leaders including Hollywood star and co-chair Heroes Project Richard Gere, senior civil servants from the Government of Maharashtra, Smt. Chandra Iyenger, and Dr. Vijay Satbir Singh, co-chair Heroes Project Parmeshwar Godrej and celebrity icons including Bipasha Basu, Urmila Matondkar, Shann and Mandira Bedi.

The event included the sharing of best practices for HIV prevention, awards for outstanding community members spreading HIV prevention outreach, and performances and messages from celebrities.

Dr. Sanjeev Gaikwad, Director of the Aastha Project said, “Atmavishwas celebrates the work of these grassroots change agents who play a pivotal role in reaching out to their peers. By encouraging other women in the community to recognize the risks they face as sex workers and motivating them to seek health services, the community has taken HIV prevention in its own hands and played an instrumental role in the state’s HIV response”. Aastha aims to reduce incidence of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) through strategic behavior communication, condom promotion, and STI services. In three years of operation, Aastha has reached over 47,000 sex workers in Mumbai/Thane.

Aastha is supported by Avahan, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s India AIDS Initiative. Avahan Director Ashok Alexander added “I am inspired by the leadership of the women gathered here today. They are the architects and drivers of HIV prevention efforts and their involvement reinforces that community driven program stand the greatest chance of success”.

Richard Gere, Hollywood actor and co-chair Heroes Project, was overwhelmed by the level of support extended towards community-led HIV prevention efforts. Speaking on the occasion, he said, “This event is in recognition of the courage displayed by the sex worker community in taking ownership of their lives. It is truly inspiring to witness the convergence of societal leaders, community members, civil servants and celebrities to acknowledge their incomparable effort in playing a central role in HIV prevention.”

Smt. Chandra Iyengar, Principal Secretary of Home (A and S),Government of Maharashtra, said, “The inclusion of sex workers as major contributors in the war against HIV/AIDS is an essential step. The Government is committed to working with every section of society to reduce HIV-AIDS and we have initiated steps to sensitize government personnel on HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Satbir Singh, Secretary, Department of Health and Family Welfare, Government of Maharashtra reinforced the importance of HIV/AIDS prevention in Maharashtra giving it status as one of the six high prevalence states “We are committed to strengthening the rights of people living with HIV and forging meaningful public-private partnership to scale-up the response to this issue” he said.

Mandira Bedi, the host of the event was greeted with wild cheers and excitement as was an appearance by Urmila Matondkar who spoke about society’s collective role in fighting HIV/AIDS. Performances by Bipasha Basu, Shweta Salve, Shann and a brigade of Indian Idols- Abhijeet Sawant, Rahul Vaidya, Aditi Paul, Amit Sana, Prajakta Sukhre, and Harish infused gaiety and a sense of celebration to the hard work of the community members present at the event.

At the end of the evening celebrities, government officials, community members and NGOs were unified in their commitment to raise awareness and work together to stop spread of HIV/AIDS.

The Final session was the Concurrent Workshops. The Participants had a choice between Comedy, Drama and Reality. Details of the workshops were:
Using Comedy to Break Social Taboos. Ms. Tracy Poust, Will & Grace The theme of this workshop was the use of humor while dealing with complex social and political issues. Will & Grace broke new ground in television as the first show to feature openly gay people among its lead characters and in doing so, is credited with breaking down stereotypes and stigma around sexual identity, homophobia and other related issues. Will & Grace has been widely recognized by both AIDS organizations and groups supporting gay rights as well as the television industry with more Emmy nominations than any other comedy program.
A Dramatic License to Entertain and Educate. Dr. Neal Baer, Law & Order /E.R. Dr. Neal Baer’s workshop focused on integrating health messages into dramatic television programming. He talked about his experiences of writing and producing for such popular programs as: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, on which he is executive producer; E.R., the long-running medical drama which he helped to create; and China Beach. On E.R. Dr. Baer had developed the storyline of Jeanie Boulet, an HIV+ physician’s assistant whose story was told over four seasons on the show and represented the longest-running character living with HIV in a drama.
Making Reality TV Real. Ms.Carolyn Carew & Ms. Kamscilla Naidoo, Lovelife/SABC Ms. Kamscilla Naidoo, head of commissioning and special projects for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), and Ms.Carolyn Carew, head of television for LoveLife, (South Africa’s largest youth HIV prevention program), shared their vast experience on working in television and film, and developing original HIV-themed programming, including both documentary and reality formats. They expanded on their case study presentation of S’camto to discuss opportunities for cross promotions around reality programming.
The day long workshop was concluded by a special live performance by Rabbi Shergill and his group in the evening. This was organized with the help of MTV!
Entertainment Television Summit in the News

As a part of its Societal Leaders’ Program, Heroes Project organized a special screening of the film “My Brother, Nikhil”, in collaboration with Shringar Cinemas Ltd, under their social initiative, Purple Ribbon. The screening was organized for the HIV/AIDS NGO community and Positive People’s Networks in Mumbai at Fame Adlabs, Andheri, on April 2, 2005.

My Brother, Nikhil is the sensitive story of a young swimming champion in Goa in the early 1990s. Told through the eyes of his loving sister, Anamika the story focuses on relationships that become strained when Nikhil becomes HIV+. After the screening, a brief panel discussion was held with the stars of the film.

The event was aimed both at senior management as well as field / outreach workers working within these NGOs. Organisations like MDACS, MSACS, Avert and FHI participated in the screening. Representatives from NGOs like Vijay Krida Mandal, Sankalp, SOSVA, Nagri Seva Prabodhini, SHED, SAATHII, ALERT, Rashtriya Swasthya Parishad, Saryajani Mahila Utkarsh Sanstha, Sanmitra, SAI, Asha Mahila Sanstha, Centre for Development Initiatives, Family Planning Association of India, Dai Welfare Society, PSI, Mukti Foundation, CASP, Hope Foundation, Yuvak Prathishthan, VRACS, Nirman – Nirmala Niketan, UDAAN and also representatives from Colgate were present in numbers.

The screening saw an overwhelming response from the community – an audience of 300 came, filling the cinema hall to its fullest! Encouraged by the positive feedback for the event, praise for the film and the excitement generated by the panel discussion, Heroes Project now plans to organize more screenings in other cities like Delhi and Calcutta.

The Program
The program started with a welcome note from Heroes Project followed by the screening of the movie. Food and drinks were served on the house! During the intermission, the audience was requested to express their opinions on the “Express Yourself” panels organized by Heroes Project. A panel discussion was organized for the audience with the cast of the film and producers after the screening. Present from the film star cast were Sanjay Suri, Purab Kohli, Gautam Kapoor, Sweta Kawaatra and Dipannita Sharma as well as Onir, the director of the film and Vicky Tejwani, one of the producers. The cast shared their experiences and emotions about the issue, the film and the characters they portrayed in the film. The event concluded with a vote of thanks by the Purple Ribbon group.

Media Leaders Summit – Background
List of Participants
Programme Details
PM’s Speech

Media Leaders Summit – Background

India has the second highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world today, after only South Africa. According to the National AIDS Control Organization, there were 5.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in India as of 2003.

According to UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, as many as two-thirds of new HIV infections projected to occur globally by 2010 could be averted with more effective prevention and public education efforts.

The practical and fastest way in which one can change anything is through media. India has the largest and powerful media group which pledged its participation in the nation wide HIV/AIDS awareness campaign. Media Leaders made commitments to use their collective communication expertise and resources to reach people, especially the youth, with information about how to prevent HIV and help combat AIDS related stigma and discrimination.

In January of 2003 at United Nation’s headquarters, Secretary General Kofi Annan brought together media leaders from around the world to focus attention on the media’s role in fighting HIV/AIDS. Launched at the meeting was the Global Media AIDS Initiative, a joint effort of the United Nations, UNAIDS and the Kaiser Family Foundation, to encourage media organizations to devote resources to getting out information about HIV/AIDS. In addition to activities in India, Global Media AIDS Initiative-supported efforts are also underway in Russia, Indonesia, China, the United States and elsewhere in the world.

To address the HIV/AIDS crisis facing the nation, the first-ever India Media Leaders Summit on HIV/AIDS was convened by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, and the Heroes Project in partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation and Avahan Initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on 6 January 2005 in New Delhi. Twenty five top executives from the leading media companies across India met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his residence to discuss what they can do to address the growing epidemic in India.

Shri S. Jaipal Reddy, Minister of Information & Broadcasting and Culture, Dr. A Ramdoss, Minister of Health & Family Welfare Minister, Shri Oscar Fernandes, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Dr. S.Y. Quraishi, Additional Secretary Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and Director General, National AIDS Control Organization, Richard Gere, Parmeshwar Godrej, Heroes Project Co-Chairs, Ashok Alexander, Executive Director Avahan Initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Matt James, Senior Vice President Kaiser Family Foundation also participated in the Summit.


List of Participants

Mr. K. K. Abraham
Indian Network for positive People
Mr. Gulab Kothari
Editor & Managing Director
Rajasthan Patrika
Mr. Sonny Abraham
United News of India
Mr. Alex Kuruvilla
Managing Director
MTV India Pvt. Ltd
Dr. Rameshchandra Agarwal
Dainik Bhaskar
Ms. P Lakshmi
Minister of State for Health & Family Welfare
Government of India
Ashok Alexander
Executive Director
Avahan Initiative, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Mr. P.K. Maheshwari
Nava Bharat
Ms. Shobhana Bhartia
Hindustan Times
Mr. Jacob Mathew
Executive Editor & Director
Malayala Manorama
Mr. Subash Chandra
Zee Telefilms Limited
Mr. Peter Mukherjea
STAR India Private Limited
Mr. Navin Chawla
Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and Culture
Government of India

Mr. N. Murali
Joint Managing Director
Shri Suresh Bafna
Chief of Bureau
Nai Dunia
Mr. N. Ram
Editor in Chief
Mr. Kunal Dasgupta
Sony Entertainment Television
Mr. K. Ramachandra Murthy
Chief Editor
Andhra Jyothi
Ms. Parmeshwar Godrej
Heroes Project
Mr. Mahesh Prasad
Sahara TV
Mr. M.M. Gupta
Dainik Jagran
Mr. Aroon Purie
Chairman & Managing Director
India Today Group
Mr. Shekar Gupta
Group CEO
Indian Express
Dr. S.Y. Quraishi
Additional Secretary and Director General
National AIDS Control Organization
Government of India
Mr. Prasanna Hota
Ministry of Health & Family Welfare
Government of India
Mr. K.V. Narayan Rao
New Delhi Television Limited (NDTV)
Mr. Matt James
Senior Vice President
Media & Public Education
Kaiser Family Foundation
Mr. Gireesh Kumar Sanghi MP
Chairman and Managing Director
Mr. Zahid Ali Khan
Chief Editor
Mr K.S. Sarma
Prasar Bharati
Mr. C.H. Kiran
Managing Director
Eenadu Television Network
Mr. Jalwant Swaroop
Mr. M.P. Veerendrakumar
Chairman & Managing Director

Programme Details

Media Leaders Summit on HIV/AIDS
January 6th 2005
10:15 amArrivals [at entrance/gate] for security clearance & Tea
10.50 am – 10.55 amDelegates get seated
11.00 amPrime Minister arrives
11:00 am – 11:05 amWelcome Note
Shri. S. Jaipal Reddy, Minister of Information & Broadcasting and Culture
11:05 am – 11:10 amAIDS in India
Dr. A. Ramdoss, Minister of Health & Family Welfare
11:10 am – 11:20 amA Call for Action: An Indian Media Partnership on HIV/AIDS
Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister
11:20 am – 12:15 pmWhat Media Can Do: A Dialogue with Participants
Opening remarks by Mr. Richard Gere, Co-chair, Heroes Project; Dialogue facilitated by Shri. S Jaipal Reddy
12:15 pm – 12:20 pmNext Steps & Vote of Thanks
Shri. Oscar Fernandes, Minister of State for Statistics & Programme Implementation
12.20 pm – 12.30 pmAssembly for Photo op with Prime Minister at Panchavati Lawns
12:30 pmPrime Minister leaves
12.30 pm – 12.40 pmPress Briefing [Detailed press conference will be at The Hotel Ashok]
As a statement of support and solidarity, a pledge was signed at the request of Shri Oscar Fernandes by Media Leaders at the Summit

We, the undersigned, recognize that HIV/AIDS threatens the health, security and economic well-being of the citizens of India. As media leaders, we realize the unique role we play in helping to stem the spread of this disease. Through our reach and influence, we are a powerful force for informing the public about HIV/AIDS and, thereby, helping to reduce its further spread and the stigma facing those already living with HIV/AIDS.

We, therefore, resolve personally, as well as on behalf of our companies, to use our communications expertise and vast resources to do our part to change the course of this epidemic. We will work together on coordinated national response to expand public knowledge and understanding about HIV/AIDS.

PM’s Speech
Voicing serious concern over mounting HIV cases in India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the pandemic should be dealt with firmness and urgency as it could hit the country’s growth severely if not checked.

Speech – Prime Minister
“I am happy to associate myself with the Indian Media Leaders Summit on HIV/AIDS. I believe this meeting is a sequel to the Global Media Initiative hosted by the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan in January 2004 in New York. It is an important milestone in our fight against the AIDS pandemic. The world has come to recognise this as a global threat to humanity. However, like so many other such threats that mankind has battled, I am confident that we shall overcome this one too but it will require massive efforts on the part of Government, media and all actors in civil society.

In this campaign the media plays an important and determining role in educating the public, creating awareness among them and transmitting crucial information so that people become aware, remain alert and take measures to prevent its occurrence. We all know that information is power, and that awareness therefore empowers. We are meeting here today to help ensure that AIDS awareness becomes an integral part of mainstream media and that it is able to reach out to the people through its tremendous creative and communicating power.

Many decades ago Mahatma Gandhi started publishing the Indian Opinion, a fortnightly newspaper, to educate people about the rules of health and hygiene so that they could follow them and keep themselves free from disease. It is interesting and instructive to recall Mahatma Gandhi’s thoughts as written in the Indian Opinion when Plague occurred in Johannesburg in 1905. Posing the question, ‘What is the duty of Press on such occasions?’ Gandhiji wrote that media has the crucial responsibility to report incidents of Plague as fast as possible, inform people to prepare themselves to face the situation, focus attention on the factors behind the appearance of disease, critically comment on lapses which might have contributed to the emergence and spread of Plague and educate people on the issue of maintaining their surroundings clean so that the disease could be prevented.

I believe that in organizing this Media Summit on HIV/AIDS, you are all deriving inspiration from this Gandhian approach. I am glad that the Ministries of Information & Broadcasting and Health & Family Welfare have teamed up with Non-Governmental Organisations like the Richard Gere Foundation to organize this Media Leaders’ Summit.

Last November, I had the opportunity to join hundreds of young people from across the country when they gathered in this city to organize a Students and Youth Parliament on HIV/AIDS. The manner of their coming together had confirmed to me that India’s democratic institutions provide the best means to fight the worst threats we face. I expressed the hope that the young women and men gathered there would prove to be energetic and vibrant partners in stopping the transmission of HIV and ameliorating the situation of those living with this dreaded disease.

From one reported HIV case in 1986, the number of HIV positive people in India has already crossed the five million mark. HIV/AIDS is no longer just a public health issue, as my colleague the Health Minister mentioned just a moment ago, it has become a serious socio-economic and developmental concern. If not checked, it can hurt our ambitions in economic growth and development very severely. Though HIV/AIDS can affect everyone, it is often the poor, youth and women in distress who are most vulnerable. We have no choice but to act, and act with firmness, with urgency and with utmost seriousness.

I assure you, our Government is committed to substantially strengthening the national AIDS control efforts. This is an important commitment of the National Common Minimum Programme. As you are aware the Congress President, Smt Sonia Gandhi, continues to take great personal interest in AIDS awareness and had gone to Bangkok last year to participate in the Global Summit on HIV/ AIDS. Different Ministries of our Government have joined hands to evolve a National Action Plan for spreading awareness and improving access to services related to HIV/AIDS. However, these efforts will require more and more partners and more and more active participants from all sections of the society to create a massive and truly people’s movement. To push this effort forward we constituted the National Council on AIDS and I myself head this Council so that the combined attention of the Government as a whole is given to our campaign against AIDS.

While focusing attention on research for finding a vaccine for this pandemic, we must leave no stone unturned in preventing its occurrence by using media in an intelligent and creative manner. In the absence of a vaccine, the social vaccine of education and awareness is the only preventive tool we have. It is appropriately said that prevention begins with information. Media, which conveys information and moulds public opinion, must remain at the heart of our campaign to help people make informed choices.

Countries such as Thailand that have recorded declining trends of HIV/AIDS infection have shown us that this pandemic beats a retreat in the face of determined leadership, massive efforts in generating awareness among people, and empowering people with information to combat it effectively. Visibility in the media, and informed and sympathetic visibility at that, is a first step towards creating greater awareness. Leaders of media, in alliance with other segments of our polity and society, can play a significant role in educating public opinion. All of you are aware that there are many misconceptions about AIDS that need to be dispelled. Half information is often more dangerous than no information. I urge you to invest in educating your own staff so that they are able to purvey correct information to the public at large.

I would like to conclude by repeating the three messages I had given to the Youth Parliament in November.
First, lead by example and lead from the front. Your behaviour needs to change first, before you seek behavioural changes in others.
Second, inform your friends and empower them, so that they can make safe choices and correct behaviour.
Third, promise to uphold the dignity of every Indian living with HIV in our country by love, affection, care and social support.

I would like to urge you to transmit your messages in all Indian languages so that they reach the widest cross section of our society. While as a public service broadcaster, Doordarshan has a special role to play, I do believe that all media should be pro-active. I am encouraged by the presence here of many important private sector media organizations. I commend you for your interest and commitment.

Finally, I must compliment Mr Richard Gere for his personal commitment to this cause. Public personalities like him can play an important role in promoting public awareness and they deserve our appreciation and support. Our Government is committed to helping civil society organizations in all such efforts. I extend my greetings and good wishes for the success of the noble venture that you are engaged in.”

The youth form a significant target group to which the Heroes Project looks to inform about HIV/AIDS. In keeping with this thought process a stall was put up at the MTV IMMIES.

Free Condoms were distributed at this event, to promote safe sex among the youth.

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