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|July 24, 2002|
The Rediff Special/ Vivek Fernandes
"He had seven bodyguards, just like the ones you see in films... they'd tap their ears and speak into their suit lapels every time you stepped near Clinton," says popular Music Television (India) veejay Cyrus Broacha.
Broacha, who was at Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona for the recently concluded 14th International AIDS Conference met former United States president William Jefferson Clinton on July 11 at the recording of Staying Alive, a youth campaign on HIV and AIDS sponsored by MTV.
"They had a special area lit for Mr Clinton because they knew he was going to drop by. But he walked in and sat down with the rest of the audience. I was instructed over the earpiece to request him to move, to bell the cat literally, and that made me a little nervous. You don't normally ask former presidents to change seats. But he said he was comfortable where he was and stayed there. He is quite informal, but he strikes up quite a presence with his six-foot-something frame and blue eyes. Also, his walk is quite unique. Much like the soldiers from old Nazi films who kick up their heels," adds the veejay.
Broacha was impressed with Clinton's savvy. "He was spewing facts and figures like they were on his fingertips, on live broadcast. He is very erudite and eloquent. There was a special 20-minute segment that we recorded later, with him fielding questions from the audience comprising 40 members. Twenty per cent off them were Asian, but a majority of them were from the African continent and the Caribbean -- from Haiti, Jamaica. Some of them did have a bone to pick with him with their anti-West opinions. But he fielded their questions, took them on the chin and, when he was through, all of us bought every word he said. He scored big-time for America, he is that charming.
"He also spoke to me in particular about the alarming HIV situation in our country. He told me that though he was completely pro-India and loved his visits to the country, every time he tried to broach the subject of AIDS or HIV, all our politicians shied away from talk about sex. They'd rather spend money on defence and buying more arms and ammunition. That is the impression the West has of India -- a country that would rather splurge on ammunition without giving too much thought to its infected millions," Broacha recalls.
The forum, he tells rediff.com, concentrated on three main areas -- Prevention and awareness; Making life better for those living with HIV/AIDS; and The way forward. It was divided into three parts -- the first was a debate between Rupert Everett, actor and gay activist, and Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana'a Nzeki from Nairobi, Kenya. The second session featured a discussion with Paulo Teixeira of the Ministry of Health, Brazil, a country that has proved that, with proper medical care, it is possible to reverse the epidemic. The third part was a Q&A with Vicki Ehrich of GlaxoSmithKline on medical care provided by multinational pharmaceuticals and the issues involved with copyrights and patents.
At the closing ceremony of the conference, Clinton, addressing thousands of scientists, practitioners, public health officials and activists said, "Before the year is out I will go to Africa and India to lend visibility and support and seek more money, more action and more understanding in the battle against AIDS."
"What can we do? How will the conference change things?" Broacha asks rhetorically. "No one could have put it better than Clinton when he said we needed to lobby harder in our own countries. Even in our own miniscule urban world, we need to begin raising voices. Hopefully someone will hear us and they will begin to question, demand in their little world and perhaps make things better."
Cyrus Oshidar, vice president, creative, MTV India Pvt Ltd, who has been a strong advocator of sex education and AIDS awareness, agrees. "Aids is the glam disease of the decade, but we need to do something to increase awareness -- when doctors and nurses show disrespect for HIV infected patients, how can we expect the average Joe to show them dignity? We cannot have advertisements and campaigns featuring a victim because he then becomes the face of AIDS. What we could do, and what we at MTV are doing, is use known faces like Cyrus Broacha who can be funny so that people will listen but will still be poignant at the same time."
The latest figures published in June 2002 by India's National AIDS Control Organisation, ministry of health and family welfare, saw 593 new reported cases of infected victims, taking the cumulative reported AIDS cases in India to 36,160. The states of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra lead the tally with 16,667 and 7,823 reported cases respectively. A whopping 31,962 (88.92 per cent) of the total reported cases come from the 15-45 age group.
Pictures: Thomas Vilhelm
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