Chair, Friends from the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the Global network of people living with HIVAIDS and the Caribbean Regional Network of people living with HIV/AIDS, Ladies and gentlemen,
We have all heard the figures. Around 430 000 people are living with HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, making it the second most affected region after sub-Saharan Africa. But HIV/AIDS is not just a cold debate around numbers and figures. It is about people. It is about me and you, our brothers, sisters, mothers, children and friends. We have to focus our discussions on the impact of HIV/AIDS on human dignity. There is no room for complacency anywhere.
It is a great honour for me to attend the launch of this regional partnership today. Over the last two years we have watched similar partnerships in other parts of the world being born and growing from strength to strength.
In eastern Africa, the Federation regional delegation and the Network of African people living with HIV/AIDS carry out Ambassadors of Hope missions to break the stigma related to HIV/AIDS and facilitate the creation of networks and associations of people living with HIV/AIDS in the region. This work is supported by Patrick Couteau and Dorothy Odhiambo- pictured on 'A Vital Partnership'. This publication tells the story of how Dorothy, a founding member of the African Network of people living with HIV/AIDS came to work for the Federation in Nairobi, Kenya.
In the Asia Pacific, the Red Cross Red Crescent shares office space and human resources with the Asia Pacific Network of people living with HIV/AIDS and together they work on decreasing HIV related discrimination in medical settings, based on the research of the Asia Pacific network of people living with HIV/AIDS.
From the experiences of this partnership in other regions we know that there are many challenges. Identifying regional issues of stigma and discrimination and adapting a global partnership to local contexts and conditions is challenging, but we are rising to the challenge in other regions and surely will here in the Caribbean as well.
Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies partnering with people living with HIV/AIDS and participating in anti-stigma work have experienced how associating with people living with HIV/AIDS and other vulnerable groups has meant attracting stigma to themselves, but many are rising to this challenge in ways that honour and update our commitment to the seven Red Cross Red Crescent Fundamental Principles.
And we cannot deny that we in the Red Cross and Red Crescent also have AIDS. Breaking the barriers of silence, stigma and discrimination within our own organisation is an ongoing task, but we work diligently to make the Red Cross and Red Crescent a more welcome place for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Workplace policies and access to treatment for our staff and volunteers through the Masambo Fund have not just protected our valuable human resources, but have created awareness and sensitivity, which is itself, a priceless asset and an example to the wider community.
Through its community base and 97 million volunteers the Red Cross and Red Crescent is ideally placed to pass on the truth about AIDS and break the myths and fears around HIV/AIDS that fuel stigma. We need to acknowledge the efforts of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers and others working at the community level on the front lines of HIV/AIDS, many of whom are living with HIV themselves. Because the Red Cross and Red Crescent reaches down to the village level, my hope is that trough our broad network we can make a difference not only in the cities, but also amongst people living in the rural area in this region.
Our Global campaign against stigma and discrimination in partnership with UNAIDS and GNP+ called 'The truth about AIDS. Pass it on…' has been able to move the issue of stigma and discrimination to the top of political and other agendas during the last two years.
This collaboration has great opportunity to move our commitments to reducing stigma and discrimination as a UNAIDS Collaborating Centre forward in this region as it has in other parts of the world. Just by publicly associating the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblems and our leaders and our youth with people living with HIV/AIDS, and saying "These people living with HIV/AIDS contribute! They deliver! We are friends and together we are making a difference".
We are very pleased with the way the global anti-stigma campaign is being used in many countries around the world, and just as it has been accepted we trust that it will be accepted as the basis for our joint action to reduce stigma and discrimination in the Caribbean.
I hope I can convey clearly the strong sense of commitment, solidarity and unity of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to our partnership with people living with HIV/AIDS.
And I congratulate you on this major step and reiterate what the President of the Federation once said: 'We all have an obligation to act, to speak out, to lobby for policy changes and to fight stigma and discrimination in all its forms wherever it occurs.'
So let us continue to pass on the truth about AIDS and as Josephine, a volunteer of the Zimbabwe Red Cross living with HIV/AIDS says at the end of the 'Living with' video: 'That power of humanity that we have, let's use it!'