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Dare to act
Atoussa Khosousi Parsey

Since joining the Movement in 2000 as secretary general of the Federation, Didier Cherpitel has placed the fight against HIV/AIDS at the top of his global agenda.

Why is HIV/AIDS such a high priority for you?
Before joining the Red Cross and Red Crescent, I had a basic understanding of HIV/AIDS — that some people were infected by it and that now there were drugs to allow them to live with it.

When in southern Africa, I had the opportunity to meet many people living with HIV/AIDS. As a human being I was profoundly disturbed by the realization that treatment was not available for them. I was also shocked to find out that testing, as a means of prevention or early intervention, was not used because of the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.

I learned of a 21-year-old woman who suffered from AIDS. She was banished from her own community with her 3-year-old child. She lived alone but was supported and cared for by Red Cross volunteers.

Her suffering and that of her child, shared by millions of people who fear isolation by their communities, made me realize that both stigma and ignorance are serious problems and they can no longer be tolerated.

Why should HIV/AIDS be treated differently from other epidemic diseases?
Unlike malaria, tuberculosis and water-related diseases, HIV/AIDS is associated with sexual behaviour and intravenous drug use. There is an unprecedented level of stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, fuelling the epidemic and leading to intolerable discrimination and human rights abuses.

Its negative impact on the social and economic development of nations is unprecedented as well. It is affecting the workforce of many developing nations. In Zambia, each year they train 1,200 new teachers but lose 1,500 to AIDS. Everywhere communities are at risk. And there are already millions of children orphaned by AIDS.

What is your opinion on making treatment affordable and preventive initiatives effective?
Existing drugs are not a choice for millions of people infected with HIV/AIDS outside of Europe and North America. Even with the current shift in global policy to forgive foreign debt and make drugs affordable, the simple fact is that, for over 1.5 billion people living on less than US$ 2 a day, even 'affordable' drugs are not an option. This is unacceptable.

There is a need to work with companies and governments to ensure they respond with appropriate action to the fact that the majority of the people infected cannot afford even cheap drug treatment.

Regardless of domestic and international initiatives on HIV/AIDS education and prevention, we must admit that there has been little impact on containing the spread of the virus globally. It is clear that individuals and whole communities at great risk of contracting HIV/AIDS do not have access to available information because of the stigma associated with it.











The great majority of Red Cross and Red Crescent services worldwide are related to improving the health of vulnerable people. Domestic health and social welfare budgets account for the largest portion of the annual expenditures of National Societies.

Internationally, health activities account for more than 30 per cent of our global emergency appeals amounting to over US$ 60 million.

These activities emphasize Red Cross and Red Crescent belief in the direct link between health and development. They are also a recognition that access to health services is a fundamental human right.

As the largest humanitarian organization we must actively use our knowledge and resources to convince authorities and political leaders to declare HIV/AIDS a public health emergency. The Red Cross and Red Crescent must direct and engage its enormous volunteer force to step up community-based education campaigns on avoiding unsafe sex, eradicate discrimination and eliminate stigmatization of people living with HIV/AIDS.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent must act on the fact that an estimated 200,000 people working within the Movement globally are infected with HIV/AIDS. They need the space to contribute and to lead the Movement's response from within.

What did the Federation achieve at the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS?
We spoke the unspoken: that the Red Cross and the Red Crescent has HIV/AIDS. Volunteers and staff living with the virus courageously represented themselves, their needs, their fears and their hopes.

We received global recognition for the key role civil society has been playing in the AIDS response through social care, education, prevention and treatment.

We presented to the world the emerging collaboration with the Global Network of People living with HIV/AIDS (GNP+) to fight HIV-related stigma.

We voiced our request to world leaders and governments to commit themselves to concrete action: to create mechanisms for full engagement of communities in taking care of themselves; to target adolescents; to involve people living with HIV/AIDS in education and preventive initiatives; and to provide community services for children orphaned by AIDS.

Does the Federation's advocacy strategy include an element of activism?
We carry out public campaigns with international bodies and governments.

As part of our private interventions, we advise political leaders, government officials and our own staff and volunteers that each person's choice of actions has a direct impact on the well-being of millions of people at risk or already infected with HIV/AIDS.

Today there is no cure but prevention and treatment are possible. But I clearly see the potential of our collective impact. We are 97 million people involved with the Red Cross and Red Crescent. We live in every community in the world.

It is time for us to move beyond words and to make a bigger difference with our actions, person by person in every community.


Atoussa Khosousi Parsey
Atoussa Khosousi Parsey is Federation guest editor of Red Cross, Red Crescent.

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