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British actor
Ralph Fiennes visits HIV patients in Indian villages

British actor
Ralph Fiennes visits HIV patients in Indian villages

British actor Ralph Fiennes said Wednesday that he was moved by the strength shown by India's HIV-infected rural population in the face of severe social ostracism.

Fiennes spent the last five days traveling to four villages in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, listening to the experiences of HIV-infected young people and children as an ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund.

The actor, who won an Oscar nomination for his role in The English Patient in 1996, is currently famous for portraying the evil Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films.

''What has moved me is not the tragedy or the shadow over these people but the strength it brings out in them,'' he said about meeting with people who had been thrown out by their families once it was learned they were HIV-positive.

India, with 5.7 million infections, has the world's largest number of people living with HIV and AIDS. Despite growing awareness about AIDS and government assurances of free drugs, social stigma is still common. People living with HIV are often denied treatment in hospitals; many are shunned by the communities they live in, and their children are prevented from going to school.

Fiennes said it was an eye-opener to see how HIV-positive people in rural India tried to break taboos by talking openly about sex and the need to use protection.

''One young man had been tested without his knowledge--now he no longer sees his children or his wife,'' Fiennes said. ''Hearing his story, other women also affected with HIV began to cry because this was similar to the stigma they faced.''

He said the resilience of children who had lost one or both parents to AIDS was remarkable.

There are about 202,000 children living with HIV in the country, according to the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS figures, and about 60,000 children are likely to be born with HIV each year.

''Education, awareness, and prevention are the key, but stigmatization and exclusion from family is what makes people suffer most,'' Fiennes said. (AP)

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