The first priority for the newly established South Asia Red Cross and Red Crescent Network on HIV/AIDS (SARNHA) will be peer education for youth. With a large majority of people living with HIV and AIDS between the ages of 15-40, strengthening Red Cross Red Crescent youth programmes to prevent HIV infection is vital to the future of every country in the region.
The network already has extensive experience from which to draw upon, such as the HIV intervention programmes run by the Red Cross in Thailand and Nepal which have been running for many years and have been highly successful in targeting young people.
"In India alone there will be more than 1 million new HIV/AIDS infections. It is not a question of if the epidemic will affect other countries in the region, they are already affected. It's a question of when they are affected on an equally large scale," said Bob McKerrow, head of the Federation's South Asia regional delegation. "We have a lot to learn from each others experiences and with a quarter of the world's population living in South Asia, addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic has to be one of our foremost priorities."
Beyond the focus on youth, other goals for SARNHA include scaling up HIV/AIDS awareness programmes, capacity building for and between Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, blood safety and the active involvement of people living with HIV/AIDS.
Activities for the network over the next six months are ambitious and include collection of information and needs assessment by Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies of their youth and HIV programmes, further development of regional and country efforts to reduce the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, discussion papers regarding youth peer education, identification of funding for new or ongoing youth and HIV programmes and continued sharing of information.
"Some National Societies are just beginning HIV/AIDS programmes and others have years of experience," said Stefan Seebacher, a Federation's regional health delegate. "The recent meeting in Kathmandu, where SARHNA was established, was a great opportunity to bring people from Asia together to really share their knowledge."
All of these activities are a culmination of successful meetings between the six South Asia Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Asia Red Cross and Red Crescent Taskforce on HIV/AIDS.
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