Fighting HIV is Community Effort

Tiffany Windows
Around the world, the Red Cross is well poised to reach vulnerable communities

The American Red Cross and the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network are making significant efforts to bring HIV programs to marginalized communities at higher risk of infection in 14 countries around the world. Through peer counseling, education and outreach, and partnerships these programs are having an impact in the lives of people living with HIV and their families.

This week, as part of the International AIDS Conference 2012, the American Red Cross sponsored a session on Youth Leadership in the HIV response. Romane Knight, a 22-year old Field Officer from the Jamaican Red Cross discussed the challenges, success, and realities that youth face in his home country. With support from the American Red Cross, Romane and his team advocate for de-stigmitazation, offer peer outreach and counseling, utilize social media, and utilize creative avenues to educate about prevention and care for those already living with HIV.

Fighting HIV is more than just a health issue. It’s a human issue. For all of the medical advancements in understanding the physical causes and nature of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the disease remains one of the most stigmatized illnesses, particularly impacting people who are already vulnerable and marginalized. In other words, those most susceptible to contracting and spreading the virus are also the least likely to have access to prevention and treatment options.

“Around the world, the Red Cross is well poised to reach vulnerable communities,” said Andy Meléndez-Salgado, senior HIV advisor with the American Red Cross. “The global network reaches those most in need even in the harder to reach places; we go to the last mile with programs that promote positive behavior change.”

The Caribbean region is home to the second largest percentage of people living with HIV. In 2009, the American Red Cross launched the Caribbean HIV and AIDS Program which works with the Red Cross in the Bahamas, Jamaica and Guyana. The goals of the program are to increase knowledge and understanding about the disease, change local attitudes and build prevention capacity. It provides peer education, condom distribution, counseling, testing and other support to those living with HIV. It also trains local people to be HIV educators, to lead support groups and perform one-on-one outreach to youth, sex workers and other populations at higher risk.

“Before you can enable people to seek help, you have to make sure they’re in an environment that supports that connection,” said Marianna Kuttothara, American Red Cross program officer for Latin America and the Caribbean.

One program that has been very successful is resumé writing support to help people living with HIV gain employment and decrease dependency on stipends. “Ensure that there is an employment component of your program in order to help people build resiliency and independence. Identify the skills people need, and find ways to meet those,” said Romane.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

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