11 January 2013

Cycling Around the World to Empower Youth in Promoting HIV/Aids Awareness

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Somen Debnath, a 29-year old Indian cyclist, presented his "Around the World Bicycle Tour for HIV/AIDS Awareness Program and Seminars on Indian Culture" on Thursday, January10, 2013 to African Development Bank staff in Tunis. Cycling from Morocco and Algeria, he just arrived in Tunisia where he intends to meet with schools, NGOs as well as the Tunisian President and Government officials representing Ministries of Education, Health, Youth, and Sports.

His goal is to educate youth by encouraging them to start a chapter on HIV/AIDS awareness, and to promote the use of needles and syringes among drug addicts and condoms for sex workers. The focus is on underprivileged poor people, urban/rural and tribal populations worldwide who have the lowest level of awareness about this deadly disease.

Since 2004, Debnath has traveled to 72 countries by pedaling 93,800 km from India. He wants to cycle across 191 countries by 2020 - visiting 45 African countries over the next three years. Starting from India, he moved West through Asia, Europe and Africa, spending at least one month in each country. So far he has been received by 64 Ambassadors, 15 Presidents, 78 Ministers and Government officials worldwide.

Debnath has lived with people from different walks of life to gain a deeper understanding of their lives. He has lived with vulnerable communities such as sex workers and drug users and participated in their household routines. He also visits schools, rural communities, local cyclists groups, institutions such as the African Development Bank, NGOs, as well as political leaders.

The persistent message he has been hearing from people living with HIV/AIDS is that they need love, care and respect. In his view, while HIV/AIDS statistics indicate improvement, these statistics are not reflecting the quality of life aspect. "The need for affection and care has not improved much since 2004," he says. His key message: "Prevention is better than Cure".

Debnath believes in the power of people in reducing the infection rate of HIV/AIDS and in improving the lives of those infected, and aims to maximize it through his cycling.

When asked why he undertook this project in his best and most productive years, he responded, "This is what I love. Everyone should do a job what they love the most."

Initially, as part of this journey, Debnath also sought to spread Indian culture. What he experienced is that there are many similarities among Indian and other societies, particularly regarding food habits. He plans to write a book outlining how the same dish has different names in different countries.

At the end of this cycling and eventual book project, Debnath plans to train teachers on HIV/AIDS awareness as they are the best transmitter of knowledge to youth.

The AfDB's Human Development Department (OSHD) recently joined the international community on World AIDS Day on December 1 in calling for concrete action to achieve Zero New Infections, Zero AIDS-Related Deaths and Zero Discrimination.

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