Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, the newly appointed UN Goodwill Ambassador for UNAIDS, says she does not want to be just a “poster girl” for the organisation but will help break social barriers and stigmas that are attached with the disease.
In her new role, Aishwarya will help raise awareness on issues related to stopping new HIV infections in children and advocate for increased access to anti-retroviral treatment.
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe announced Aishwarya’s appointment as the Goodwill Ambassador at a press conference in New York on Monday. Aishwarya said it is an “honour and privilege” to be working with the UN and focusing on the work that needs to be done in the area of AIDS/HIV.
“I will initially be like a student, holding the hand of the organisation which will lead me to the real picture on the ground,” Aishwarya, wearing a chic black dress said at the press conference.
She said she is exchanging ideas with UNAIDS on what steps need to be taken and how to work with women in educating them and helping them break social barriers and stigmas that are attached with the disease. “I dont want to be just a poster girl, dont want to be just part of a platform that will have my face and quotes and voice,” Aishwarya said, adding she would be going to sites across India and other countries, interact with people, appeal to governments and talk with pharma companies to see what works need to be done in the area.
Bachchan said she had been approached several years ago by the UN to be part of several programmes and causes but due to her packed movie schedule, she could not make the time to be associated with the initiatives. “Now I am planning my time forward,” she said, adding having been “wonderfully blessed” with a daughter, she can now take time off.
“It has been an absolute pleasure to take time off and take care of my daughter,” Aishwarya said. She said she is in a “good” point in her life where she is planning her career ahead, while also giving personal time to her family and daughter.
Lending her support to social causes like AIDS is not just the cliched “Miss World” talk, she said, adding over the years she has taken one step at a time and given her voice to causes as effectively as she could at that point in time.
“This is a turning point in my life. I wanted to be associated with the UN at a time when I could actually contribute to the work and the causes,” she said, adding that having the blessing of celebrity will allow her to take her message to a larger audience.
Aishwary said not many women in India, affected with HIV/AIDS come forward and seek help due to fear of social stigma, lack of awareness and education. She said there is need to spread awareness among women and children that there is hope for them and they should come forward to get adequate medical care for themselves.
“By coming on board, I hope to give further impetus to the work that UNAIDS has done and further contribute to the help spread the message,” Aishwary said.
She said it is a “hugely positive step” that UNAIDS believes it is possible to eliminate new HIV infections among children by 2015. “UNAIDS’ passion is infectious and I would like to contribute to it. This is shared responsibility and we can achieve it and make it possible,” she said, adding it will be a “blessing” to have a generation born free of HIV.
Sidibe welcomed Aishwary to the UNAIDS family. “Aishwarya is respected and admired by millions of people around the world,” said Sidibe. “I am convinced that through her global outreach, Aishwary can help UNAIDS reach its goal of eliminating new HIV infections among children by 2015.”
The main focus of Aishwary will be to advocate for the Global Plan towards the elimination of new HIV infections among children and keeping their mothers alive. This plan was launched at the United Nations in June 2011.
The Global Plan focuses on 22 countries including India, which account for more than 90 per cent of all new HIV infections among children. Twenty one of them are in sub-Saharan Africa, where the estimated number of children newly infected with HIV fell by 25 per cent, from 360 000 in 2009 to 270 000 in 2011.
Progress in sub-Saharan Africa has been made possible through rapid improvement in access to services that prevent new infections in children. There was a dramatic increase in coverage of services in the 21 sub-Saharan African countries between 2009 and 2011: from 34 per cent to 61 per cent.
HIV transmission rates from mother-to child have also declined since 2010 with the introduction of more effective prophylaxis regimens. “Through her work in raising awareness of the issues and advocating for increased access to services Mrs Rai Bachchan will be instrumental in helping to ensure that no more babies are born with HIV and that their mothers stay alive and healthy,” said Sidibe.
“We look forward to working with her to reach our collective goals.”
UNAIDS is the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS that leads and inspires the world to achieve its shared vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.