Dr. Tim Bray* in Delhi
National Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in South Asia have received a major boost with initial funding confirmed for the biggest International Federation AIDS regional programme outside of southern Africa.
Initial funding has been received for the CHF 15 million five-year HIV/AIDS programme which encompasses the national societies of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The Swedish Red Cross will have a significant role in the programme and has brokered the first instalment of CHF 1.7 million through the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). The eventual Swedish Red Cross/SIDA funding will provide for approximately half the programme costs between now and 2010.
The programme, designed by the health unit of the South Asia Regional Delegation together with Swedish Red Cross, will provide the basis for a long-term, coordinated response to reduce the burden of HIV/AIDS in South Asia by building on the well-established Red Cross/Red Crescent capacity for outreach at the local level.
The core areas of intervention are: peer education and life skills development among young people; improving the quality of life of people living with HIV/AIDS and their families through care and support and anti-stigma activities; promotion of voluntary non-remunerated blood donation; building the capacity of national societies to deliver HIV/AIDS interventions effectively; and strengthening regional approaches in the response to HIV/AIDS.
The national societies will implement the programme through their country-wide branch and volunteer networks at the state, district and village levels, in close collaboration with the local communities, governments, people living with HIV/AIDS and other key stakeholders.
South Asia has some of the highest deprivation levels in the world, political instability, human trafficking, population movement and porous borders. All this means that the epidemic has the potential to advance at an alarming rate threatening to reverse hard-gained economic improvements.
The programme will therefore hopefully play a significant role in mitigating the impact of the HIV epidemic in the region, and ultimately influence the future of the pandemic.
India and Nepal are recognised as being on the verge of a generalized epidemic. Already over 5 million people in India HIV-positive and many millions more are vulnerable. Incidence rates in some districts in Tamil Nadu are as high as six per cent.
Other countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan have low prevalence but high vulnerability, offering a golden opportunity for organisations like the Red Crescent to pre-empt serious outbreaks.
However, stigma and discrimination remain high, severely undermining effective responses. The region has yet to see the development of an effective multi-level, multi-sector response with integrated participation from civil society organizations.
The new regional programme heeds the call for a hard-hitting, coordinated and effective range of measures. The lesson learned from other countries, especially those in southern Africa is not to wait until it is too late.
It is hoped the generous support of the Swedish Red Cross and SIDA will be matched by other partners to make a difference in HIV/AIDS in South Asia.
*Dr Tim Bray, is HIV/AIDS Delegate in the International Federation’s South Asia Regional Delegation