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ICASO Leader Steps Down After 17 Years

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 Toronto, Canada.

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 governments."

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.