From silence and shame to dignity and equity – the HIV response in Asia and the Pacific

Publié: 4 décembre 2013 15:40 CET

Members from the entire Red Cross Red Crescent Movement gathered two weeks ago to participate in the 11th International Congress on HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in Bangkok. This, the largest HIV conference in the region, highlighted innovative ideas, knowledge and practices being adopted to address the HIV epidemic.

While Asia and the Pacific has seen some impressive gains in the fight against HIV – including a 20 per cent drop in new infections and a tripling in access to antiretroviral therapy since 2006 – there is still much to be done to achieve the vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths throughout the region.

Progress is being hindered by an inadequate focus on key populations at higher risk of HIV infection, widespread stigma and discrimination, repressive laws and insufficient funding from both domestic and international sources.

National Societies in Asia and the Pacific have a long history of working with critical key populations. In 2012 alone, 37 National Societies reached and served over 6 million people in the Asia Pacific region, of which 120,000 were from these often marginalized groups.

“Stigma and discrimination remain enormous barriers to expanding access to life-saving treatment,” says Dr Asma Hasnat of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society. “The fear and prejudice that lies at the core of HIV discrimination need to be tackled at every level if our response is to be effective.”

The Pakistan Red Crescent Society believes that religious leaders, effectively deployed as committed agents of transformation and change, can play a vital role in tackling HIV in Pakistan, as these leaders often hold a significant role in the lives and morals of many people in the traditionally conservative country.

The Nepalese Red Cross Society has been targeting female sex workers in Nepal with HIV prevention and testing projects, leading to a 45 per cent rise in condom use, an increase of HIV testing coverage to 71 per cent and an increase in knowledge within this group about the risks of HIV and how it can be prevented. In China, similar projects are being carried out by the Red Cross Society of China, with similarly successful results.

Patrick Couteau, Senior HIV advisor for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, chaired a symposium called ‘From science to community’ at the ICAAP meeting. This brought community volunteers, researchers and political leaders to the stage to share their experiences of how the width, depth and diversity of the Red Cross Red Crescent HIV response in the Asia Pacific region is helping to transfer scientific knowledge to local communities, reaching the people who need it most. This leads to a virtuous cycle, with Red Cross Red Crescent workers and volunteers gathering research from within the communities they are serving, in turn helping to broaden the scientific knowledge that helps to improve the HIV response.

“HIV remains a disaster for many marginalized groups in the Asia Pacific region. Current HIV infection rates amongst key populations are unacceptable while we possess the scientific knowledge allowing us to change the trajectory of the epidemic,” says Dr Praphan Phanuphak, Director of the Thai Red Cross Society AIDS Research Centre.

The Asian Red Cross and Red Crescent HIV/AIDS Network now chaired by Liying Yu,  from the Red Cross Society of China, is ready to step up the pace of the response which will greatly contribute to getting to the ‘three zeros’ vision.

The quantifiable global impact of the 15 million Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers represents just the tip of the iceberg. Volunteers are often themselves members of the communities they serve, and are a vital link between health services and their communities, creating opportunities for them to take advantage of a wide range of related or unrelated health benefits.

Volunteers deserve much greater recognition and promotion, a resolution mirrored by the ICAAP meeting.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, along with a range of civil society networks, development partners and other NGOs, is committed to working with countries and communities to expand confidential and voluntary community-based testing and counselling. Indeed, the Red Cross Red Crescent has committed to ensure at least one volunteer embedded within each and every community around the world as part of its post-2015 goals.