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Friday, December 4, 2009

‘Nobody need die of AIDS’

Parmesh Godrej delivers a powerful message to society

Parmesh Godrej is God's gift to the government in its despairing battle against AIDS. How do I know? I have the honourable Union Minister of State for Health, Dinesh Trivedi's word for it. Yesterday, on the occasion of World AIDS Day, the mantriji told me in Mumbai, "She is in the forefront, breaking the ice, and doing what should be done by the government... by my ministry. Naturally, I am obliged and grateful, because the government can't do it alone. The message sent by someone like her in society is better understood. People listen when a Bill Gates, or a Queen Rania of Jordan and the First Lady of Indonesia Ani Yudhoyono talk about AIDS. At the government level, it sounds hollow and like a sermon..." 

    And as to what message Parmesh is conveying on behalf of the government, very simply she explained, "The message is prevention... cure comes later. You don't need a sermon on morality, but you need to educate people, nobody needs to die of AIDS... with a change in lifestyle, it's possible for an HIV-infected person to live 20 years and more. Medicines are available locally, and cheaply, the government provides it free of cost to some sections. It's like managing diabetes. Remember what Kofi Annan (former Secretary General of the UN) said... it's not the disease that kills, but the stigma associated with HIV, the discrimination that does. My heart has always gone out to children (and mothers) affected by HIV... the husbands blame wives after themselves bringing the disease home, mothers are turned away from hospitals, children thrown out of school... I want to abolish the discrimination against children living with HIV." 
    And it is true. That is why Parmesh's new mission is the prevention and acceptance of HIV understood by people. Actually, it's not a new mission, because her Heroes Project started with Hollywood actor Richard Gere to build awareness about HIV/AIDS is ten years old. True, there are other big killers in India as well, like dysentry and cancer... but Parmesh would rather concentrate on AIDS, because its association with sexuality and the denial sur
rounding it makes AIDS a far greater challenge. "We work on this quietly around the year and make ourself heard around World AIDS Day," she said with a wry smile. 
    This is a different Parmesh Godrej, not to be confused with the erstwhile grande dame of society, the hostess with the mostess and the industrialist deeply involved with designing, property, garments... "I've enjoyed every aspect of life ever since I came of age," she said, "but now I have a reason to live. This is one of the things I do. I'm not going to say God's given me everything and now's the time to give back. I don't owe anything to anybody. But, yes, I can make a difference by addressing this sensitive issue boldly and holistically. By my conviction that only a real partnership between the government, NGOs and professionals can bring about change." The government, God bless, is upto the challenge. The minister admitted, "The government needs to change its attitude, professionalise itself, and run like a CEO. This is not difficult. It's not rocket science! 



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