On behalf of the Federation I wish to acknowledge the tremendous contribution that the Global Network of PLWHA (GNP+) and its affiliates have made to the Federation over the past few years. GNP+ is a dedicated and focused partner.
Thanks also to UNAIDS for encouraging the collaboration between GNP+ and the Federation. The early phase of this work has been detailed in the UNAIDS Best Practice publication 'A Vital Partnership', and then our progress was later acknowledged when the Federation was made a UNAIDS Collaborating Centre for reducing stigma and discrimination.
In 2001 we launched 'The Truth about AIDS. Pass it on…..' anti-stigma campaign, and developed stamps to dispel myths about HIV transmission. 'Pass it on…' gave us a way to involve a maximum number of people to pass the truth on to their friends.
We followed this up with basic protection messages under the banner 'You CAN get HIV', where the Federation advocated basic protection measures like voluntary counseling and testing, not sharing needles, use of condoms, and universal infection control procedures in the workplace.
Today's launch is the beginning of a closer collaboration with GNP+, with materials inspired by the work with Turkish Red Crescent and Saatchi & Saatchi in Turkey.
Stigmatising others is a danger to the social cohesion needed to defeat the HIV epidemic. When a 'stigmatiser' attempts to treat another person as somehow 'less than human', he is attempting to discount the full humanity of 'the other' person. However, the stigmatiser diminishes his own humanity. Stigmtisation tells us more about the perpetrator than the so-called victim.
The Federation promotes humanitarian values, and protects human dignity, so we have to intervene to stop stigma and discrimination in all its forms. We know that 'inclusion' not 'division' is the only way forward.
The person being stigmatized is truly a humanitarian activist when resisting the labeling and discounting process, sometimes at great person risk. By resisting, the so called 'victim' invites the stigmatiser to become fully human again. This is a graphic example of the power of humanity.
The Federation wants this process to move beyond brave individuals making a stand, to civil society and governments standing with PLWHA to acknowledge our interconnected humanity, and the tremendous positive contribution that PLWHA can make if given half a chance.
When leaders associate with PLWHA they may attract stigma to themselves, but rising above ignorance and narrow mindedness is exactly what statesmen and women do best.
RCRC has leaders who are well known humanitarians, who are proud to stand publicly with PLWHA inside and outside the Federation, and tell the truth about AIDS. Sometimes we have to offer protection like a safe place to meet, calm down communities, and defend the rights of children orphaned by AIDS.
This ability to bring out the best in people, to humanize, is what defines our best leaders in politics, in faith based organizations, and in communities.
The Federation is currently agreeing on joint action with networks of PLWHA at regional and country levels around the world. This has involved earning the trust of PLWHA organizations and individuals the Federation has not worked with before.
I believe the theme of this campaign matches exactly this step. It is up to the Federation to demonstrate it is a good home for PLWHA, and show it is open so that PLWHA know it is safe to collaborate. If PLWHA cannot turn to the world's largest volunteer based humanitarian organization, then who can they turn to?
The Federation has a responsibility to make the first move, and so it invites PLWHA around the world to 'Come closer….'
'Come closer….' also needs to happen in workplaces, in play grounds, in places of worship, villages, homes and friendships all over the world.
Exclusion and social division feed the HIV epidemic.
Discrimination is not protection, it merely separates us from the power of humanity that we all need to respond effectively to the HIV epidemic.
Social exclusion is at the root of HIV vulnerability.
Exclusion of people from social support and networks because of their HIV status, or religion, or social standing, sexual orientation, race, or gender contributes to HIV vulnerability and worsens the impact of HIV.
Extending dignity and respect to all people is therefore the key to responding to HIV.
Embrace your full humanity. Tell the truth about AIDS. Invite PLWHA to 'Come closer….'