The volunteers and staff of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have a long tradition of involvement in health promotion activities, going back to 1919 when our Cannes medical conference pledged to develop sound public health measures for infectious and preventable diseases.
Ever since, we have worked to spread the light of science into every corner of the world.
The harm reduction approach has always been central to our work, with respect to all health activities. This is because this methodology emphasises practical measures to protect and save human lives, and to empower the vulnerable.
Our recent publication to guide National Societies working to prevent people sharing drug injecting equipment, and to implement other harm reduction measures, is entitled Spreading the Light of Science to honour this legacy.
The IFRC began global HIV prevention work in 1987, and has continuously updated and improved this work, including present efforts to expand the HIV prevention components of treatment access.
Each stage of development has built on the strengths of the past, such as the work in the 1920s in coalition with other organisations to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, and our 1980s handbook An Introduction to Sexual Health.
The most recent collaboration has been hosting the Code of Good Practice for NGOs responding to HIV/AIDS Project, already endorsed by more than 160 major civil society organisations. These organisations are willing to be held accountable against all the organisational and programming principles in the Code.
These programming principles for HIV prevention are:
• we provide and/or advocate for comprehensive HIV prevention programmes to meet the variety of needs of individuals and communities.
• our HIV prevention programmes enable individuals to develop the skills to protect themselves and/or others from HIV infection.
• our HIV prevention programmes ensure that individuals have access to and information about the use of commodities to prevent HIV infection.
• we provide and/or advocate for comprehensive harm reduction programmes for people who inject drugs.
The International Federation's work is also informed by human rights. Indeed in 1995 we collaborated with Harvard School of Public Health to produce the manual AIDS, Health and Human Rights.
Dr Jonathan Mann played a key role in development of that manual, and our work today remains consistent with the principles and practices explained in that manual. These should be reflected strongly in the UNAIDS Prevention Strategy.
We have great faith in the work done by UNAIDS across all aspects of the titanic struggle the world is waging against HIV/AIDS. Many references were made to the value of intense collaboration between the IFRC and UNAIDS during the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in December 2003.
That meeting, which brought together as equal partners the governments of the world and their National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, culminated in the adoption of our Agenda for Humanitarian Action, which contains detailed actions concerning HIV/AIDS.
These actions were adopted unanimously, and include specific harm reduction measures within prevention programs.
The Agenda for Humanitarian Action also recognises that programs may differ from country to country, taking account of local circumstances, ethics and cultural values.
One of the great strengths of the IFRC is that its own community base, and the involvement of the communities and their volunteers in our program design, implementation and monitoring gives us a unique opportunity to help assess what will work best in different countries and regions.
We bring the strength of our network to our collaboration with UNAIDS. But we also believe that the clear need for consistency and clarity of purpose suggests that UNAIDS must maintain global leadership of prevention work.
We see such leadership, for example through the UNAIDS Prevention strategy, as facilitating our most effective work. We find UNAIDS a strong and dedicated partner, and our work is able to develop its own breadth through attitudes which do not seek to constrain us, but rather to assist us as we move forward with our tasks.
In this spirit, we look forward to the strategy endorsed by the Programme Co-ordination Board helping to lead the IFRC and other organisations to renewed efforts to scale up consistent with the best practices available.
The strategy will also enable us to innovate, with more effective approaches including through measures that would meaningfully empower PLWHA organisations and reduce stigma in all countries.
The combination of these processes is a vital ingredient in the mix which will assist the achievement of Millennium Development Goal 6, and it is important for us all to remember that HIV/AIDS is much more than a communicable disease. It is a threat to the prosperity and sustainable development of our planet, and needs to be addressed as such.
The IFRC has also undertaken to utilise its advocacy capacity, including as an Observer with the United Nations General Assembly to bring this basic message to the attention of the international community at all appropriate times.
This is one of the reasons why the IFRC now utilises this capacity at sessions of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, where our statements have sought to help spread the light of science concerning HIV/AIDS and harm reduction into those other parts of the international community with a direct role to play.