On the occasion of World AIDS Day 2008, the Indian Red Cross Society along with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (The International Federation) launched the “South Asia Red Cross Red Crescent Global Alliance on HIV” as part of a global effort to scale up HIV programming. The aim is to double the outreach of Red Cross Red Crescent HIV programmes in the region by targeting more than 1.5 million people.
The National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies of India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka launched the Global Alliance on HIV, with a total programme budget of 624.5 million rupees (12.8 million dollars).
“HIV continues to pose a huge threat and many people in Asia remain unaware of the dangers. If there is something more deadly than HIV, it is complacency about HIV,” says Dr Mukesh Kapila, the International Federation’s Special Representative for HIV. He adds that the Global Alliance will focus on supporting the most vulnerable groups including 400,000 young people, 80,000 people living with HIV and at least 7,000 sex workers. He put a lot of stress on fighting stigma and discrimination being faced by HIV positive people. Country level programmes will focus on HIV prevention, care, treatment and the reduction of stigma and discrimination.
WHO representative to India, Dr. Salim J. Habayeb praised the initiatives taken by the Government of India which dare to take World Bank Loan for starting HIV programmes in early 1990’s when most of the states were scared to plunge into any such operations.
Speaking on the occasion Dr S.P. Agarwal, Secretary General of the Indian Red Cross Society said, “It is a historic occasion for the IRCS as the launch for the region is being done from the Disaster Management Centre of the Society that co-ordinates and commands our major disaster relief operations in the country.” He added that at present IRCS HIV Program is being conducted by 104 staff and we are holding youth peer group education program in schools & colleges; care, support and nutrition for HIV positive patients; and service, support and stigma project for children and adults living with HIV.
Dr. Agarwal informed that 49.4% of the youth population has misconceptions on certain incorrect modes of transmission such as mosquito bites and sharing of meals. It leads to a conclusion that there is a huge role for Red Cross through its youth wings to clear such misconceptions and it provides an opportunity to promote life skill development amongst youth. He thanked the International Federation for committing to upscale the existing activities that need to be strengthened for better results.
The International Federation estimates that, of the global total of 33 million people living with HIV, there are approximately 2.6 million in South Asia out of which around 95 % are in India.
“The unique strength of Red Cross is that they operate at the community level. Their volunteers are well placed to tackle stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV. One of the biggest challenges we face in South Asia is to overcome the myths and misconceptions surrounding HIV”, says Al Panico, Head of South Asia Regional Delegation.