A Ugandan activist says community groups can play a major role in preventing the further spread of HIV, the AIDS virus. Milly Katana told the 14th International AIDS Conference Monday that such groups can provide valuable information on implementing treatment and prevention programs.
Milly Katana, who runs the Health Rights Action Group in Kampala, says community groups were already battling the disease even before it acquired the official name of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. At the time, it was called "Slim Disease" by the local population in Uganda.
She also says the community movement "pushed policy makers and politicians into action they might never have taken without pressure from activists, advocates and their allies."
Ms. Katana reminded the conference that, according to U.N. statistics, less than one percent of the world's population is infected with HIV. She says that means there is much work to be done to prevent the remaining 99 percent from joining the ranks of the HIV positive.
At the same time, she says the 40 million people currently living with the virus need assistance. "One of the key central laws of us, as the community movement, is offering care and support, and this care we can do in all sorts of different ways, ranging from home-based care to economic empowerment," she said.
Ms. Katana says in Africa, community groups can often do what national governments cannot. "Even in the richest countries of sub-Saharan Africa, health-care systems are inadequate," said Milly Katana. "So, we still have to play a major role offering home-based care to persons infected and affected with HIV."
The care provided by local groups also includes moral and psychological support. And to help families who have lost their main breadwinner to HIV/AIDS, community groups and non-governmental organizations can teach skills in agriculture, trading and small business.
But the Ugandan health care activist says one of the primary roles of community-based groups remains raising awareness. "Ladies and gentlemen, you will be shocked from the statistics to realize that until today many people are still unsure of how they can contract HIV," she said. "And how they can protect themselves from HIV."
Milly Katana says when AIDS "no longer strikes fear and casts a shadow over peoples' lives" it will be because of the tireless work of communities.