There is a strategic window of opportunity in Asia and the Pacific to prevent the region from experiencing an HIV/AIDS pandemic on the same devastating scale as Africa, says the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent is co-sponsoring this week's 5th International Conference on Home and Community Care for Persons Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) which opened today in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Some 3000 people are attending the conference.
"All community-based organisations like the national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies must join forces to ensure that the pandemic is contained in Asia where almost half a million people have died this year out of an infected population of 7.1 million," said Dr. Alvaro Bermejo, head of health and community care at the International Federation, speaking in Chiang Mai.
There are 40 million PLWHA in the world today including 28.1 million Africans.
"HIV/AIDS doesn't have to lead to death. With care and treatment positive people can live with HIV," said Dr. Bermejo. "We think of care as a form of prevention. Without care there can be no successful prevention."
Speaking to a gathering of agencies at a skills building session on HIV/AIDS and human rights, he said that good prevention and care programmes in Asia could still stop the epidemic from spreading further. Dr. Bermejo said that for this to succeed interventions must combine education, prevention, care and treatment for PLWHA, with a determined fight against the discrimination and stigma. This week's conference will help the Red Cross and Red Crescent to develop better strategies for working with PLWHA and sensitising communities and families to their needs.
This is reflected in a draft strategy, which is being discussed among Red Cross and Red Crescent delegates at the conference, the main thrust being on community involvement. Other main points under discussion include emphasis on the use of locally available and appropriate technology, networking and collaboration with other organisations, governments, NGOs, private sector and others, advocacy on behalf of HIV-infected people and development of policies and legislation that safeguard the rights of the affected and the infected.
A Red Cross Red Crescent study presented at the Conference found that the publicity related to infectiousness and associated stigma has placed new challenges on the family and community coping mechanisms. "Some people have therefore died of neglect within the home due to fear of contamination by family and community members as well as lack of the relevant knowledge, skills and means to cope," is one of the report's findings.
The Chiang Mai conference ends on Thursday.
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