New ERNA president tells governments to match commitments with cash

Publié: 17 septembre 2003 0:00 CET

Joe Lowry in Riga

Swedish Red Cross President Anders Milton was today elected president of ERNA, the European Regional Network on HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, at the group’s seventh annual meeting in Latvia.

Delegates from 24 European and Central Asian National Societies voted for Dr Milton ahead of French Red Cross candidate Dr Francois Chieze. Fabio Patruno from Italian Red Cross was elected vice-president.

Milton, who replaces outgoing president Massimo Barra, has pledged to use his experience on the World Medical Association and various WHO and governmental committees to reinforce ERNA's strength, and also to improve women and youth representation.

As a contributor to the Federation's HIV/AIDS committee, Milton has made progress in persuading pharmaceutical companies to allow governments in developing countries to produce generic anti-retroviral drugs at low cost for HIV positive people.

"We must continue the good work started by Massimo Barra," Milton told delegates in Riga. "We have to encourage new National Societies to join, build more partnerships with PLWHA (People Living With HIV/AIDS) organizations, partner with UN, international and national organizations, and get governments to put their money where there mouths are".

Two leading Europe-based organizations were also present at the meeting: The Open Society-funded International Harm Reduction Association, and GNP+, the Global Network of PLWHA. Both urged delegates from the Red Cross/Red Crescent to redouble their efforts, as statistics continue to show an alarming increase in infection rates in former Soviet Bloc countries.

GNP+ board member Julian Hows noted the close links between his organization and the Red Cross/Red Crescent, but stressed that his dream would be to see HIV-positive people from the region participating in ERNA.

"You need to look at the opportunities offered by the Global Network. If you have PLWHAs in your region we can help you develop their skills through training, scholarships and sponsorship," he said.

The meeting admitted two new member, the Turkmenistan Red Crescent and the Macedonian Red Cross, bringing the total membership to 32. The first ERNA meeting, in Rome in 1997, was attended by just 12 National Societies.

The outgoing president, Dr Massimo Barra, was sad to leave office, but pledged to remain an active member. "When we started nobody wanted to speak out", he remembered. "But now we have no political bias, no-one thinks their country is any better or worse than any other. We feel we are from the same world, meeting as brothers. That's been our proudest achievement."

The meeting, which discussed harm reduction activities, new trends, advocacy and the spread of TB, also adopted new terms of reference to take it into an era described by Barra as one of "business not as usual".

In closing speeches, all noted the organisational skills of Latvian Red Cross Youth, who were primarily responsible for staging the conference.

Heartfelt tributes were expressed by many present for the work done by Massimo Barra as president of ERNA since it's inception in 1997. New president Ander Milton joined the tributes, saying he had done a "tremendous job mobilizing support, effort and incresing commitment to ERNA."