HIV/AIDS in southern Africa: IFRC Appeal

Published: 1 November 2006

Today is a very serious and important day for us. It is the day on which we make the solemn pledge that we will not stand by while the scourge of HIV and AIDS continues to extract its daily, deadly toll across this land.

We are here because this is the epicentre of the worldwide epidemic of HIV and AIDS. One-third of the global total of people with HIV live in this region. That is over 12 million. And a million of them die each year. Every year. At the same time, a million or so get newly infected. Life expectancy has dropped to below the age of forty in many countries. There are 4.6 million orphans and vulnerable children, and their numbers are climbing.

These are just numbers. But the Red Cross knows something about what they mean in human terms. This is because our members and volunteers – tens of thousands of them scattered across all communities across this region – themselves work, feel, live and die among the people we serve.

Our volunteers are unsung heroes as everyday, without fuss or fanfare, they reach out to people living with HIV or dying of AIDS to make sure they take their treatments, eat something, get emotional succour, go to clinics when necessary, and their desperate family members also find a shoulder to lean on….or cry on.

Perhaps that is why we feel qualified and compelled to launch this appeal for some 300 million US dollars for the ten countries in this neighbourhood: Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

We know what must be done; and we are impatient to be allowed to do more, and to do it better.

Over the next 5 years, the Red Cross wishes to quadruple its effort so as to help over 460,000 orphans and vulnerable children, and bring home-based care for 250,000 people with HIV and AIDS.

We are committed to ensuring that in all the communities where we work, voluntary counseling and testing is available as is life-saving anti-retroviral treatment. And with the means that are available, we want to make sure that mothers no longer have to agonise over whether their child will be born with HIV.

At the same time, we are redoubling our prevention efforts with the general public and also by peer education with especially vulnerable groups, to ensure that they have the knowledge and skills to protect themselves and others.

Working with HIV positive people is at the heart of our strategy. At the same time, overcoming basic ignorance of how HIV is and is not transmitted is a perpetual task, as is countering the stigma and discrimination that costs lives and fuels the spread of the epidemic.

In addition, there will be a new emphasis in the Red Cross programme to address gender inequalities, including the record level of sexual and gender based violence across the region that is an additional driver of the epidemic.

Let me conclude on a personal note. Last month, the Malawi Red Cross took me to a village near Mwanza where I met 13 year-old Carolin – one of the orphan statistics, we mentioned earlier.

I sat with Carolin on the front steps of her ramshackle hut as she explained how her parents died since when she has lived all alone. It so happened that we met Carolin at about the same time as the controversial dilemma posed over the adoption of another Malawian orphan by Madonna.

Carolin also faced a dilemma as she could either eat or go to secondary school, but she could not do both. She was hard working and thrifty but she simply could not earn enough from her petty jobs.

The Madonna adoption issue raised difficult ethical issues for society. Carolin’s issues were quite simple – just a matter of life and death.

She was receiving help from the Red Cross but we have also come to face the same dilemma: we have resources to either feed her or to send her to school.

But we cannot do both. To be faced with Carolin’s dilemma is an insult to our common humanity. Hence this appeal for 300 million dollars – the biggest ever launched by the International Federation for any single programme.

That is just another statistic perhaps - but it is also an acknowledgement that there are many Carolins out there and they cannot all fly way. The Red Cross is there for them.