M.F Borel in Cape Town
"When you see young men and women wasting away to their death, leaving behind traumatized children and desperate grandparents, you know something must be done now. A whole generation is about to disappear. This is why we must join our efforts to those of other partners and greatly expand our programmes to help people living with HIV/Aids, as quickly as possible." It is with those words that the Secretary general of the International Federation, Didier Cherpitel, ended a five-day trip to Zimbabwe and South Africa that took him from the boardrooms of government officials to the bedside of terminally ill AIDS patients. Mr. Cherpitel visited several Red Cross home care projects in both countries.
Mr. Cherpitel travelled to southern Africa to gain a better understanding of Red Cross home care programmes for AIDS sufferers and their families, to see the work of volunteers in the field in this area, and to discuss possible partnership strategies with government officials, private industry and other organizations involved in the fight to stop the spread of the disease.
As a response to the pandemic (more than 24 million people are HIV-positive in Africa alone), the International Federation has designed a regional plan to be implemented in the ten Red Cross Societies of southern Africa. Within two weeks, the Federation and the National Societies will identify districts where they can set up programmes or enlarge existing ones.
The action comes as a follow-up to the Ouagadougou conference of September 2000, where 53 African National Societies committed themselves to addressing more vigorously and effectively the issues of community health and food security, under what is called the African Red Cross/Red Crescent Health Initiative (ARCHI). These five-year action plans will focus on home-based care for people living with HIV/AIDS, on prevention and education, on counselling and on the training and recruitment of volunteers.
"We have some two million volunteers in Africa, but needs are so great that hundreds of thousands more will be needed to effectively combat the spread of HIV at the community level. It is at the community level that we can make a real difference in changing peopl's behaviour", stressed Mr. Cherpitel.
The action plans will also include community care for orphans - there are 600,000 orphans in Zimbabwe today and it is estimated there will be one million orphans under 15 in South Africa by the end of 2002. Education is also a priority for governments. Teaching children how to avoid getting infected must begin at an early age in schools, since according to regional statistics in southern Africa, children become sexually active on the average at 11 ears old, some as young as 8 or 9.
In many of the discussions attended by the Secretary general, it was apparent that governments and other organizations working to combat HIV/AIDS are particularly concerned about opportunistic diseases, and tuberculosis in particular. In South Africa, the number of cases of tuberculosis increased by 42% over last year, to 270,000 cases for the Western Cape province alone, according to the Minister of Health. "We must all work to make sure that appropriate medicines are available for people suffering from preventable diseases, such as tuberculosis", noted Mr. Cherpitel.
The new Red Cross action plans defining the type of activities will be drawn up by April 20 for six countries (Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Lesotho, Angola, Zambia and Malawi). Plans for the other four (Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia) will be done by May 30.