In the battle against HIV/AIDS, much of the fighting
against the pandemic has been waged by civil society. When anti-retrovirals
were not available – when little was known about the disease itself – many NGOs
were helping those afflicted by an illness once called "slim disease."
Many civil society and NGOs organized under the
International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO), which is based in
Richard Burzynski, head of the group, is stepping
down after many years in the post. He spoke on this World AIDS Day to VOA
English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.
"I've been head of ICASO for the last 17 years
and I think one of the most extraordinary reflections is that civil society,
and that's these NGOs and people living with HIV, those communities affected by
the disease, are really now claiming the right to have a part of the
decision-making process. And governments are starting to recognize,
particularly in developing countries, that they need civil society on their
side because, frankly, this is where the action is now taking place," he says.
He describes ICASO as a "network of networks. We
may be headquartered with 12 people here in Toronto, but we're spread around
the world in 10 different countries working on prevention, alongside treatment."
Those countries are Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria, China, India, Belize,
Jamaica, Ukraine and Russia.
"We're now working on a new program…which was
trying to link technical support to civil society in country, trying to get
them the resources, but making sure the technical support goes to them so they
can apply for those grants from the Global Fund (to Fight AIDS, TB and
Malaria), so they can negotiate the role of civil society alongside
Burzynski says, however, it's a rapidly changing
world. "We're now seeing a number of different crises coming to impact on the
work that we do, from the food crisis to the energy crisis to the climate
crisis. These are all connected to the kind of work that we do."
Burzynski says he's thinking about a number
of possibilities for his next job and stresses the importance of bringing in
new leadership, "in the hopes of transforming an organization and the way we
look at things.… As a friend said to me once, You need to continue going off to
the edge of the cliff and jumping off and seeing how far you can fly…taking
some risks, looking at it from all different angles; never say no. If they say
it's impossible, there must be a way to get around all that. And I need to
continue to find that energy," he says.