By Sadia Kaenzig in Washington DC, USA
José Maria di Bello is one of the co-founders of the Red Cross Red Crescent+ (RCRC+) Network alongside Guy Choquet. He visited the US as part of a delegation to the International AIDS Conference in Washington DC.
A degree in psychology at hand, José Maria di Bello has been working with the Argentine Red Cross since 2003, first in the HIV programmes and now director of the health department. He previously worked with various NGOs in the field of human rights and sexual and reproductive health. He says the need to reach out to those who don’t get the support they need drives his work, and so he was in just the right place to improve lives. "Working with the Red Cross Red Crescent is different because we simply reach the unreached people in the communities where the system is broken for them. This makes a huge difference and motivates me to keep on working with the organization." Jose is the first gay man to marry his partner in Argentina. He lives in Buenos Aires with his spouse and three adopted children.
We spoke just moments after the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, spoke during the opening plenary session of the International AIDS Conference 2012 to reaffirm her government's commitment to fight AIDS and stressed the belief that an AIDS-free generation is possible.
Sadia Kaenzig: You have played a key role in creating the RCRC+ Network, tell us all about it.
Jose Maria di Bello: When I have first applied for my job at the Argentine Red Cross, I immediately announced that I was gay and HIV positive. Working openly with my status helps me gain confidence to engage in awareness activities without prejudice, as we all know that prevention strategies if applied in a prejudiced environment are always bound to fail. As Guy mentioned earlier, in 2007, we created the Network.
Very few of us were engaged but today we have over 700 members representing some 100,000 HIV positive volunteers and staff working within the Movement. We try to redouble our efforts fighting stigma and discrimination, based on our principles and values. Yet, often we still fall into the trap of moral judgements about people's behavior. Focusing on behavior rather than practices.
To be a leading partner in the fight against HIV and AIDS, we must always be consistent with our code of ethics and good practices, and remain faithful to our principles and values. These guide us at all times.
When the Network was created, the IFRC Governing Board had also set up the Massambo Fund, a special fund for our most vulnerable volunteers and staff affected by the devastating epidemic. Thanks to our outreach activities, the number of beneficiaries has increased to 200, assisted for a period of five years. Today we are facing many challenges. Mobilising resources is one, communicating effectively with each other is another. The question of inequity also applies here but we should keep on mobilising efforts and simply not give up.
SK: We have just heard at the opening that we could end this epidemic and achieve an AIDS-free generation. How can the Movement contribute to turning the tide on HIV and AIDS?
JMB: As I mentioned earlier, we need to focus on most at risk groups affected by HIV and AIDS. There is no taboo for us to work with men who have sex with men, drug users, transgender, sex workers, people deprived of freedom, migrants, displaced. We must work with the most marginalized in order to stop the spread of the disease. It is here where we should spread the word, test, treat and care for them. We should also observe the gender perspective, and fight stigma and prejudice, and the existing inequities in health.
Working tirelessly to prevent mother-to-child transmission is also another must.
SK: What should people take away from this conference?
JMB: We are here in this conference to make a difference. We try to influence the global agenda in relation to people living with HIV, and it iis important that people like us voice our concerns.
Our community work exposes a view that is often not taken into account in relation to the most vulnerable people living in extreme conditions. Topics are sometimes decided at the top, completely disconnected from realities we see on the ground. For instance when we talk about how ‘treatment as prevention’, we must ensure it is well framed within a human rights approach. There is no magic formula. We have to continuously take what works and drop what doesn't, so that our responses are well tailored to our context. We are also here to learn where we stand on research and development, on innovative tools and technology, and we will seek ways to share these within our Movement.