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|The Role of Community as A Key in Responding to HIV and AIDS|
Jakarta (21 July 2009) – Eight communities will be represented at the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (9th ICAAP) that will take place on 9–13 August 2009 in Bali, Indonesia,. They are (1) people living with HIV (PLHIV), (2) interfaith forum of religious leaders, (3) men who have sex with men and transgender, (4) migrants, (5) people who use drugs, (6) sex workers, (7) women, including lesbians, and (8) youth.
Community involvement is a key in responding to the HIV epidemic. There is evidence in various places, that civil society, including community-based organizations with diverse backgrounds, can help governments in reaching Universal Access, which is an important part of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Prior to 9th ICAAP, a Community Forum will be held on 7 – 8 August 2009. This forum will embrace the eight communities to brainstorm, identify and share common issues and experiences among themselves. The Community Forum will open at the Inna Grand Beach Hotel, Sanur, and the closing will be held in the Bali International Convention Centre, Nusa Dua, on 9 August morning prior to the opening ceremony of the 9th ICAAP in the evening.
The Local Organizing Committee Co-Chair II, Prof. Dewa N. Wirawan, MD, MPH. said “through the Community Forum pre-congress activities the importance of community involvement in the fight against HIV and AIDS is strongly emphasized. Engaging communities is essential for strong responses to HIV-AIDS, and often begins at the community level. The role of communities in shaping sustainable and positive behavior change is not only crucial, but also their involvement in providing a context for the discussion of significant and contemporary issues is undeniably critical. Their specific knowledge can accelerate effective responses and make the role of communities an integral part of all future programming.”
The Community Forum realizes that if the program scope (ARV therapy, information on sexually transmitted infection, and work support) can cover 80% for injecting drug users, sex workers and their clients, men who have sex with men and their partners, this would help to halt and reverse the HIV epidemic, as recommended by the Independent Commission on AIDS in Asia.
Through the theme, Empowering People, Strengthening Networks, the 9th ICAAP is viewed as an effort to support the creation of a dynamic community with empowered people in the Asia and Pacific region. Thus, cross border pandemic response within the region needs to be conducted holistically and effectively, due to the increasing rate of HIV prevalence. The Independent Commission on AIDS in Asia (2008) recorded the number of PLHIV in Asia in 2007 at 5 million, with a number of 380,000 new infections, comparatively speaking equal to the number of people who died from AIDS-related illnesses. In the Pacific region (Oceania), it is estimated that there are 740.000 PLHIV and 13.000 amongst them are new cases.
There are 5 million PLHIV in Asia and Pacific and their rights to Universal Access and sustainable treatment must be met. We also need to protect the human rights of all drug users so that they can protect their health and received basic health care.
Men who have sex with men and the transgender community need access to prevention, care, support and treatment. In addition, marginalization and criminalization that prevents access have to be eradicated. The same effort needs to be made to protect sex workers’ rights. HIV programs have only been focused on condom use to prevent HIV, yet it does not address the more basic issue of their rights and how they face discrimination and criminalization.
Women are four times more vulnerable to HIV infection compared to men; women under 20 years old can even be 10 times more vulnerable. Women often face more discrimination than men in terms of AIDS because of the likelihood of abandonment by their spouse, thus empowerment for the community is crucial. Gender issue integration into every level of policy and program needs to be done in order to guarantee, fulfill and protect the rights of women holistically.
The youth community needs to have more access to information about sexuality. Youth make up one quarter of the world's population (about 1.7 billion people) and around 5.4 million amongst them are infected with HIV. UNFPA data in 2007 mentioned that there are 1.28 million youth living with HIV and AIDS in Asia and Pacific. The future of Asia and Pacific is in their hands, yet the HIV prevalence rate amongst youth is high.
Another community, which needs to be involved is the interfaith community, in order to provide assistance to vulnerable groups such as children, women, and youth as well as those who may have high-risk behavior such as sex workers and injecting drug users. This requires a human rights approach in conveying messages to address stigma and discrimination still faced by the communities. Religious leaders' responses to stigma and discrimination are influential in the way society treats PLHIV. Compassion, understanding, and access to prevention, care, support, and treatment are necessary to help individuals achieve MDGs by 2015.
The Community Forum started at the 3rd ICAAP in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 1995. At the following congresses in Melbourne, Australia (2001) and Kobe, Japan (2005), the Community Forum became stronger and is now managed by the Asia Pacific Regional Networks Coalition (also known as the 7 Sisters Coalition).
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