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Richard Gere and Parmeshwar Godrej Launch The Heroes Project To Mobilize Societal Leaders and the Media Industry to Fight AIDS in India

Gates Foundation Supported Project Includes Partnership with Kaiser Family Foundation and Star India to Launch Public Education Campaign

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
206-709-3400
Aman Gupta, for Avahan
Phone: +91.124.5061812/13 (office), +91.98100.91402 (mobile)
Email: media@india.gatesfoundation.org

Nitin Srivastava, for Avahan
Phone: +91.11.5166.4401 (office), +91.98115.70620 (mobile)
Email: media@india.gatesfoundation.org

MUMBAI, India -- Richard Gere and Parmeshwar Godrej launched the 'Heroes Project' today with an aim to mobilize societal leaders and the media industry to fight HIV/AIDS in India. Healing the Divide has received a grant of up to $2.4 million over three years from Avahan, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's India AIDS initiative, and will implement the Heroes Project through the Gere Foundation India Trust. The Heroes Project also includes as partners the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which has committed $250,000 in the first year towards production of public service announcements and will provide public health and information expertise towards the project, and Star India, which has generously committed an estimated $14 million in airtime through its media assets over the three-year project.

The event was also attended by Ashok Alexander, Director of Avahan, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Robert Kelty, Director of the Heroes Project; Tina Hoff, Vice President of the Kaiser Family Foundation; and Dr. Suniti Solomon, founder Y.R. Gaitonde Care and Board Member, Avahan. Richard Gere said, "I am proud to join my friend Parmeshwar Godrej in organizing the Heroes Project. 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."

The three-year project will include a public education partnership with Star India, aimed at reducing stigma and iscrimination associated with populations vulnerable to and affected by HIV/AIDS on its television properties. STAR India's contribution to the Heroes Project will provide the campaign with a total of 26,000 public service messages that are due to air across STAR's TV and radio properties such as STAR Plus, STAR Gold, Channel [V], STAR World, STAR Movies, National Geographic Channel, TAR Vijay and Radio City. The public education campaign will launch in a two-part series beginning July 2004. The first television message, featuring Indian cricket star Rahul Dravid, will debut on Star's networks in July.

Mukerjea said, "STAR India is proud to announce its role in this critical call to action. It is our hope by doing so that the door shall remain open to additional media companies in India and throughout the world. We accept our social responsibility to influence the solution rather than ignore
the devastation."

The Heroes Project will conduct a public education campaign to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and convene a Leadership Council comprised of societal leaders from various sectors whose influence will be leveraged in order to make policy change in the field of HIV/AIDS. The public education campaign will use public service announcements, online and print content, television and radio programming as well as a series of educational events to raise awareness about the epidemic and impact public perceptions of the disease. The Leadership Council intends to unite prominent leaders in the areas of business, entertainment, government, media, NGO and society to influence public opinion on HIV/AIDS in India. Conclusively, the Heroes Project aims to build a national climate in which societal and political leaders have the technical knowledge to mobilize effective and sustainable  HIV/AIDS initiatives within India.

Alexander said, "The Heroes Project will allow us to contribute to 'mainstreaming' HIV/AIDS and reaching out to key stakeholders in order to create an favourable environment for HIV/AIDS efforts in India."

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Annexure

The Heroes Project builds on the success of an event organized by Richard Gere, Parmeshwar Godrej and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation called  "A Time for Heroes India" that brought together the Indian media, entertainment and business leaders. Their combined strengths demonstrated an incredible potential for change. To translate the success and momentum of A Time for Heroes India into a sustainable long-term program, the Gere Foundation India Trust is collaborating with Avahan, the Kaiser Family Foundation and STAR India to establish the necessary infrastructure to bring about changes in public perception and policy around India's HIV/AIDS crisis.

India's National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) estimates that 5.1 million Indians were living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2003, indicating an increase from previous years and among the highest overall numbers in the world. Low overall prevalence among the general population of India - about 1% - masks differences among regions, states and sub-populations. Also according to NACO, while there is awareness about AIDS among the general Indian public, misperceptions - and stigma against those living with the disease - persist.

In a special meeting at United Nations headquarters in January, Secretary General Kofi Annan called for media companies and others to work together as part of a Global Media AIDS Initiative to educate the public about AIDS. Drew Altman, Ph.D., President of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and one of the lead organizations along with the UN and UNAIDS in the Global Media AIDS Initiative, said, "Global AIDS is the greatest health challenge of our generation, and the media can be a powerful tool in educating people about
the disease. This campaign represents an unprecedented commitment in the fight against AIDS."

About:

Healing the Divide (HTD) fosters programs that promote understanding, cooperation and resource-sharing in order to eliminate the causes of disparity and division in communities throughout the world. By collaborating with local leaders and international experts in various fields, HTD develops innovative, effective and culturally appropriate solutions to complex problems. HTD are working across a wide range of issues which include Asia's growing HIV/AIDS crisis and the Middle East's Pursuit for Peace, a non-violent approach to peace in the Middle East.

Gere Foundation India Trust & Parmeshwar Godrej focus their work around health-related projects in India including the funding of Naz Foundation Delhi's AIDS Care Home, a long-term care facility for women and orphaned children infected with HIV. In December 2002 they produced "A Time For Heroes India" which brought together societal leaders to raise funds and awareness around the issue of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The funds raised from that event went to Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation projects in India and the NAZ Foundation.

Contact: Bob Kelty, Bkelty@healingthedivide.org

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation is an independent national health philanthropy dedicated to providing information and analysis on health
issues to policymakers, the media, and the general public. It is not kassociated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries. The Foundation partners with entertainment media organizations to develop multi-faceted public education campaigns on important health issues and is particularly focused on providing young people with information about reproductive and sexual health issues such as HIV.

Contact: Tina Hoff, thoff@kff.org

STAR Care is the philanthropic arm of Star Group Limited dedicated to incorporating social responsibility into their daily operations. As Asia's largest television network, reaching more than 300 million viewers in 53 countries across Asia, Star's reach is unmatched. Star Group Limited
broadcasts over 40 services in seven languages providing Star Care with a uniquely powerful communication vehicle that can be leveraged for the good of the communities they serve. The Star Care initiatives cover a wide range of social responsibilities including health, education for children and equal opportunities. Star is a key source of programming expertise for Radio City, the first FM radio network to launch in India.

Contact: Ravi Kumar, ravik@in.startv.com

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