Eradicating Stigma and Gender Inequality Essential to Combat AIDS

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says eradicating stigma and gender inequality is essential to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS. The agency says HIV/AIDS thrives in communities that continue to discriminate against victims of the disease. Lisa Schlein reports from Red Cross headquarters in Geneva.

New data shows that global HIV prevalence has leveled off. It finds about one half million fewer people were infected with HIV last year than was the case a decade ago.

But, the numbers are still staggering. The latest United Nations report finds about 33 million people around the world live with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Every year, 2.5 million people are newly infected and more than two million die from the disease.

Mukesh Kapila is the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' Special Representative for HIV. In comments timed to coincide with World AIDS Day, he says the world is far from seeing the end of AIDS. He says prevention activities must be scaled up.

He says HIV/AIDS thrives in communities where stigma against AIDS victims and gender inequalities exist.

"We know, for example, that [in] a recent survey done in young people in Britain, South Africa, Kyrgyztan and Ethiopia, in the region of ... a quarter to one-half young people would not be friends with someone with HIV," said Dr. Kapila. "In other words, there is a great deal of ignorance, stigma and discrimination around the place. And, this is certainly a great fuel for the epidemic. Another factor is inequality, particularly gender inequality, because this leads to women increasingly bearing the burden of the epidemic."

Dr. Kapila says stigma and discrimination against AIDS victims is breaking down in Africa. This for the unfortunate reason that in large parts of the continent, most families have been touched by HIV.

But, in other parts of the world - in China, India, Southeast Asia, and in Europe - discrimination against people with HIV persists.

Good treatment for HIV is available. But Dr. Kapila notes less than one-third of people who need treatment have access to it, and he says only 10 percent of vulnerable people around the world have reliable access to prevention technologies.

"So, it is really a question of applying what we know, but doing it on a systematic and a grand enough scale and trying to overcome some of the bureaucratic obstacles, which means that the money is very often stuck in funds and bureaucratic arrangements," said Dr. Kapila. "And, all people and communities find it very, very difficult to navigate their way through very complex international systems to allow them to benefit from that. In the end, it is not cash that saves lives. You have to turn the cash into useful products and services."

Dr. Kapila says no 'magic bullet' is available to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic. He says basic strategies remain the most effective way of preventing new infections. He says safe sex and condoms work best in saving lives.


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