“Make Maharashtra a model state in the fight against HIV/AIDS”.
That’s what UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe told State Chief Secretary Johny Joseph during their meeting on Saturday.
Sidibe offered to prepare a “roadmap” to help it undertake a programme to stop mother-to-child transmission of HIV so that the next generation can be free of the disease.
“We will take a decision after UNAIDS gives us a concept paper,” said Joseph.
Sidibe, who has over 27 years of experience in public health, felt that Maharashtra has what it takes to assume a leadership role in the battle against HIV/AIDS.
This, despite the state having a high prevalence of the disease.
“Maharashtra has better health systems, financial resources and a strong civil society movement,” said Sidibe.
He added that though Maharashtra manufactures inexpensive drugs used by the world, only 30 per cent of patients in the state have access to treatment.
“Mali and South Africa have managed to cover 80 per cent of HIV patients,” he said, adding that India-made drugs cost less in Africa.
Sidibe said we need to prevent transmission of HIV to children but is against mandatory testing for pregnant women as proposed by Oscar Fernandes, head of India’s Parliamentary Forum on HIV and AIDS on Friday.
“Mandatory screening is not needed. There should be universal access to confidential and voluntary testing,” he said.
He said India needs programmes that are well targeted at high-risk groups like sex workers, homosexuals and drug users, besides more emphasis on prevention.
Sidibe lauded the Delhi High Court ruling that decriminalised homosexuality.
He said it would encourage 80 other countries that still have homophobic laws.