AIDS in the Americas: keeping promises

Published: 22 April 2003 0:00 CET

Javier Hourcade, HIV/AIDS Anti-stigma Campaign Manager

The innovative regional response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Americas during the last decade has been based on the active participation of the affected communities.

This response can best be summed up by the word “diversity”. At the community level, networks of organizations promoting harm reduction, the rights of women, sex workers and men who have sex with men, particularly those living with HIV/AIDS, are doing a great job fostering prevention and reducing stigma.

The community response therefore mirrors the epidemic in a region where the disease was initially “concentrated” in vulnerable populations such as sex workers, homosexuals and intravenous drug users.

Nevertheless, the number of HIV/AIDS cases continues to grow, with a real danger that it will become a more generalised epidemic, related to other factors of vulnerability such as poverty and under-development. The Caribbean is already the region of the world with the second highest adult prevalence rate, after sub-Saharan Africa.

The response in Latin America has been highly successful. In 12 countries people living with HIV/AIDS are represented on National AIDS Councils - being involved in the design and implementation of AIDS-related policies. Thirteen countries will receive funding from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

Yet, despite the largely successful response to HIV/AIDS in the Americas, these achievements are under threat due to the economic and social crises facing several countries in the region.

“Latin America and the Caribbean has demonstrated an efficient response to the HIV/AIDS crisis with unique and diverse community actions and the leadership of governments, which has translated into more and better treatment and care for people living with HIV/AIDS,” said Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, during the opening ceremony of the 2nd Forum on HIV/AIDS/STD in Latin America and the Caribbean, held in the Cuban capital, Havana, from 7-12 April.

“However, the recent socio-political and economical crisis that have shackled some countries in the region, like Argentina and Venezuela, is already having an impact on the response to AIDS. The priority is to coordinate efforts so as to not move backwards, to not lose what we have achieved in the region,” Piot added.

The theme of the forum was “Knowledge, experience and Alliance Strategy for the future”, and more than 1600 delegates from Latin American and the Caribbean took part in the conference, which was jointly organized by the Latin American National AIDS Programmes and the community regional networks.

The Havana conference was a great opportunity to remind the political leadership in the region to remember the pledges it made at the UN General Assembly on HIV/AIDS last year in New York. Indeed Piot urged member states to keep the promises they had made in the UN General Assembly Special Session Declaration of Commitments.

By this year, countries will have to have taken steps to reduce HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination, implemented prevention and education programmes, as well as developed the health infrastructure for HIV/AIDS treatment and care. Many sessions in Havana were devoted to assessing the progress needed to accomplish these goals.

At community level, the Red Cross has had a significant role to play in tackling the epidemic. The experience of national Red Cross Societies, working in partnership with national networks of people living with HIV/AIDS was described at the forum by Gabriela Bacín, in charge of youth issues in the International Federation’s Southern Cone regional delegation.

“Red Cross youth led the movement response to the AIDS crisis in the region, firstly through prevention and education programmes and currently by scaling up locally the campaign to reduce HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination,” she explained.

“The peer approach and the youth sections’ leadership and ownership of the programmes have been key in our regional experience,” Bacín added.

This strategic partnership between Red Cross HIV/AIDS-related programmes and people living with HIV/AIDS continues to improve at national and regional level, and the results of this collaboration will be reviewed at the Inter-American Red Cross Conference in Santiago de Chile, which begins on 23 April.

Latin American and the Caribbean is a very diverse region, and the regional forum in Cuba demonstrated the different forms of cooperation possible between civil society, the private sector, governments and international agencies. Leadership and participation have been a key factor so far – an effective and sustainable implementation including the mobilization of community level volunteers will be the challenge for the future.

Related Links:

XVII Inter-American Conference of the Red Cross
Reducing the impact of HIV/AIDS
HIV/AIDS Anti-Stigma Campaign
Regional reports from the Americas
Regional reports from the Caribbean