The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) works to ensure more people living with HIV get access to treatment in developing countries and its volunteers offer home-based support and palliative care.
Access to treatment
Antiretroviral therapy (ART) and treatment for secondary infections increase life expectancy and quality of life for people who are HIV-positive, particularly if they also have access to adequate food and clean water.
In developing countries drug availability remains unacceptably low, often not even reaching 5 per cent of the affected adult population.
National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ strength lies in the home-based support their volunteers offer to people living with HIV, including assistance in taking the drugs correctly (adherence).
In harder hit countries, IFRC staff and volunteers might be among those who need treatment, but do not have access to it. The Masambo Fund- named after a volunteer who died because she could not access treatment - provides access to ART for Red Cross Red Crescent staff and volunteers living with HIV so that they can continue their humanitarian work. Individuals can make donationsto the Masambo Fund.
Antiretroviral therapy (ART)
The IFRC has a clear policy on access to lifesaving drugs; humanitarian concerns should prevail over commercial interests.
The price of ART has dropped significantly and there has been further political commitment to providing it by leaders of some of the hardest hit countries.
Since 2003, the IFRC has adopted a holistic approach to ART in partnership with governments and other specialized agencies. This comprehensive approach involves prevention, care, treatment and the reduction of stigma.
Community home-based care
The 2001 declaration of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV underscored the importance of a holistic global response against HIV, including expanding community home-based care.
National Societies’ volunteers train and support family and community members to care for, include, and empower people living with HIV.
A community home-based programme:
- contributes to the care for people living with HIV, based on traditional community support systems
- identifies orphans and other children made vulnerable by HIV
- reduces stigma and discrimination
- facilitates access to social, medical, psychological, spiritual and emotional support
- provides prevention education
- reduces abuse of health system resources
The IFRC believes that all people have a right to live and die with dignity. Pain relief in all forms - physical, emotional, spiritual and social - is a right that should be afforded to people living with HIV or AIDS.
Palliative care includes symptom management both during acute and chronic illness and at the end of life. It involves medical personnel, community members and the families of people living with HIV or AIDS. It can take place in hospitals, nursing homes or in the client’s home - often the most practical and effective location.
National Societies and their trained volunteers across the world offer palliative care in all three settings.
Volunteer carers are the most valuable resource for community home-based care. They typically work in stressful and traumatic settings.
National Societies provide a combination of physical, social and psychological support including:
- protective items such as gloves, soap and antiseptics to prevent transmission of infection
- training and supervision for volunteers
- weekly sessions for volunteers to share ideas, experiences and problems
- recognition of volunteer carers’ valuable contribution
- adequate rest for volunteers, giving them time with their own families
- a system of working in pairs when possible, so volunteers can support each other
- help with the grieving process and remembrance according to local customs
Orphans and other children made vulnerable by HIV
Some 15 million children have already lost 1 or both parents to AIDS. The number of orphans is set to reach 25 million by the end of the decade, and increase until 2020 or 2030.
The IFRC’s work with orphans and other children made vulnerable by HIV is based on:
- participation of children and young people
- community-based care
- awareness of the needs of children at special risk
Examples of National Societies’ work to support HIV orphans and vulnerable children
- The American Red Cross provides basic school and recreational supplies as part of their School Chest programme to enable children to attend school
- In the Ivory Coast, homeless young people trained as Red Cross peer educators run dance, music and art programmes to spread awareness of HIV
- The Zimbabwe Red Cross established a memory project to provide orphans and vulnerable children with information about their parents through photos, drawings and special memories. Parents and children work together to help children facing loss or separation from a parent to understand the past and feel more secure about their future.