The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is launching a fund to pay for anti-retroviral drugs for its staff and volunteers who have AIDS. Most of the workers are in Africa.
The Red Cross estimates at least 200,000 people within its organization are living with HIV-AIDS. It says many of these people are working as care-givers to people who are sick with the disease, while they themselves are dying through lack of treatment.
The Head of the International Federation's global HIV-AIDS program, Bernard Gardiner, says this threatens the organization's ability to carry out its worldwide humanitarian operations, and, in some places, even its survival.
"We cannot do our work without keeping these people alive," he said. "It is a matter of organizational survival. We have been losing far too many people. And, our capacity to serve the most vulnerable in each community is really seriously being undermined by the sheer number of staff and volunteers that we are losing. And, as we try to scale up our work to reach more and more people, this becomes even more crucial."
The so-called Masambo Fund is named after a long-serving staff member of the Zimbabwe Red Cross home-based care program who died from AIDS in late 2001.
The President of the Zambian Red Cross, Tito Fachi, says most of the staff and volunteers who are dying of AIDS live in poor countries. He says most of them cannot afford anti-retroviral therapy and their governments, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, are unable to provide them with the drugs they need.
Dr. Fachi says the Zambian Red Cross has lost many of its members to AIDS, and this is putting a big strain on the organization's ability to work.
"These same people are looking after patients in the home-based care programs who are actually dying in their arms, putting more psychological pressure on our care givers and care facilitators," said Toto Fachi. "I have seen the pain that they go through. I have seen the problem which is in sub-Saharan Africa of orphans. It is really a time bomb."
Money for the Masambo Fund will be raised through voluntary annual contributions by each Red Cross and Red Crescent society. No money will be taken away from humanitarian operations.
The Red Cross says it hopes at least 300 people will be helped to get onto treatment initially. It says each person will be guaranteed five years of drug supplies with priority given to people in countries where there is no other funding available.