Actor Richard Gere To Launch HIV/AIDS Awareness Project in India
AIDS advocate and actor Richard Gere in Mumbai, India, on Wednesday launched the "Heroes Project," an initiative intended to combat HIV/AIDS in India, according to the AP/Miami Herald (AP/Miami Herald, 7/7). The Heroes Project -- which will include celebrities from Bollywood films, sports figures, business leaders and government officials as spokespeople -- aims to increase public discussion of the Indian HIV/AIDS epidemic with television, radio and print advertisements (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/4/03). According to the 2004 UNAIDS Report of the Global AIDS Epidemic released on Tuesday, India has 5.1 million people living with HIV, up from about four million in 2002 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/7). The Heroes Project is a partnership between Avahan -- the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Indian AIDS initiative -- the Gere Foundation India Trust, and the Kaiser Family Foundation, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation release. The project is partnering with media company Star India, which has committed about $14 million in airtime for the three-year project and will include 26,000 public service messages, which will begin with a two-part series this month (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 7/7). The first television public service announcement will include Indian cricket player Rahul Dravid. Future advertisements will be "more direct," Gere said, adding that celebrities will "pick up a condom and talk about it. They'll say, 'Please use it. You gotta protect yourself, you know about this disease. Use a condom.'" Indian advertisements rarely use words like "safe sex" or "condom" (Dow Jones International News, 7/7). Gere said, "India urgently needs heroes to come forward at this crucial moment to contain this epidemic, which will help create a significant understanding and compassion as we concentrate on removing the stigma attached to the disease and are able to bring a message of urgency and promise to the people of India" (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 7/7).
Gere on Tuesday attended a three-hour HIV/AIDS awareness seminar in New Delhi, India, aimed at increasing HIV/AIDS awareness and reducing stigma through the arts, the AP/Louisville Courier-Journal reports. The workshop, "Make Art/Stop AIDS," which is funded by UNAIDS and the Gere Foundation India Trust, has been traveling throughout the country for six months (AP/Louisville Courier-Journal, 7/6). The workshop included a puppet show created as a UNAIDS project for the Delhi Public Society, excerpts from a street theater performance by the Nalamdana Group and passages from a serial novel that deals with AIDS read by Indian actor Om Puri, according to the Hindustan Times (Faridi, Hindustan Times, 7/8). Dr. David Gere, director of the project and Richard Gere's brother, said that the workshop next will travel to Bangkok, Thailand, for the XV International AIDS Conference, the AP/Courier-Journal reports (AP/Louisville Courier-Journal, 7/6). Richard Gere is scheduled during the conference to officially launch the 2004 AIDS Film Festival in Siam Square with the Asian premiere of the global AIDS documentary "A Closer Walk." The film, by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Robert Bilheimer, tells the stories of Paul Farmer, a Harvard University professor and researcher who runs an AIDS clinic in Haiti; Hassan Semankula, a 15-year-old Ugandan teenager who dropped out of school to care for his family after his parents died of AIDS-related causes; Rev. Emanuel Cleaver, former Kansas City mayor and preacher at St. James United Methodist Church; the Dalai Lama; Irish rock star Bono; and others affected by and working to fight HIV/AIDS (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/28). Gere on Wednesday also that he has been discussing the possibility of making an Indian version of the 1993 film "Philadelphia" -- a film that portrayed an HIV-positive man who is fired when his employers find out his status -- with the local film community, Agence France Presse reports. "We need to get the message out and films are a powerful medium for that," Gere said (Agence France Presse, 7/7).