The struggle to address HIV-related stigma

Ten community-based organizations received the 2012 Red Ribbon Award during a special session of the 2012 International AIDS Conference. Photo by: © Ryan Rayburn / IAS

The fourth day of the 2012 International AIDS Conference tackled challenges and potential solutions in the fight against HIV and AIDs.

Stigma is one of the main factors preventing people from getting tested and receiving proper care and treatment. An evaluation of a partnership project in Thailand showed that while living with someone afflicted with HIV or AIDS can reduce fear of transmission, the stigma and shame are just as high. The study said it is important to deal with such issues using a combination of approaches, which must start with imparting correct knowledge of HIV.

What else happened at and around the conference? Here’s a quick rundown:

  • At a plenary session, Bernhard Schwartländer, director of strategy at the Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDSdescribed a “very interesting” happening in Africa: rise in domestic spending on HIV and AIDS programs. Other experts meanwhile, told IRIN News that African countries are coping with flat donor funding for HIV programs through innovative financing mechanisms such as levies on mobile phone use or taxes on tobacco and alcohol.

  • In the same plenary session, UNICEF senior adviser on HIV and AIDS Chewe Luo said the United Nation’s goal to stop new HIV infections in babies by 2015 is “totally off target.” Luo says focusing interventions on preventing mother-to-child transmission is “part of the problem.” Programs need to be transformed so that women who need treatment can be identified early on.

  • Ten community-based organizations from Egypt, Haiti, India, Iran, Mexico, Kenya, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Russia and Uganda received the 2012 Red Ribbon Award during a special session of the conference. The award is recognition of the group’s innovative and outstanding contributions to the fight against AIDS in their communities. It is hosted by UNAIDS, other U.N. agencies, the AIDS 2012 secretariat, the Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, STOP AIDS Now, the Global Network of Women Living with HIV/AIDS, and the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations. Each group received a $10,000 grant.

  • Gabriel Jaramillo, interim managing director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, was interviewed on the sidelines of the conference. Aside from discussing the challenges he faces at work and how he’s addressing these, Jaramillo talked about why he took the interim job and his plans beyond the Global Fund. One thing’s for sure: He’s stepping down at the end of his term in six months.

  • South Africa Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe joined activists on the sidelines of the conference in an appeal to the U.S. government to fund the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief at its current levels at least until 2015. The White House has proposed cutting some $550 million from PEPFAR’s budget in 2013, SABC News says.

  • Thousands of people marched in protest against a new U.S. trade agreement — the Trans Pacific Partnership — that some expert said could prevent AIDS patients from getting life-saving medications. Activists and experts have argued that free trade agreements, in the United States and elsewhere, could inflate drug prices by giving long-term monopolies to large drug companies.

  • An effective protest needs “timing and targeting,” ONE’s senior health policy manager Erin Hohlfelder writes in a blog post. Unfortunately, the protests she witnessed at an IAC panel on the U.S. Congressional response to the AIDS pandemic had neither. They were “so disruptive” and “were aimed at the wrong targets at the wrong time.” The five panelists, Hohlfelder argued, “were and are champions” of the United States’ AIDS response.

  • Helene Gayle, the head of CARE USA, makes a case for more investments in AIDS programs for women, who she says remain disproportionally at risk of contracting HIV. She argues that continuing the momentum, and ultimately changing the tide on AIDS, “means staying ahead of the disease and reaching the most vulnerable populations such as the ultra-poor and, in too many places, women and girls.”

  • We are at the tipping point in the fight against AIDS, writes model and maternal health advocate Christy Turlington Burns in an Every Mother Counts blog post. But she also asks, “If we can make this kind of progress with HIV, a complex infectious disease, then why can’t we insure that more girls and women who do not have HIV survive childbirth?”

  • UNAIDS’ Michel Sidibé reiterated the conference’s highly optimistic message in a blog post on the Huffington Post: “We can end AIDS. We will end AIDS … Let the XIX International AIDS Conference be known as the beginning of the end of AIDS.”

  • Countries that receive aid from PEPFAR can now buy some 152 antiretroviral drugs through the program. This is after the U.S. Food and Drug Administrationapproved or tentatively approved these medications for sale outside the United States through PEPFAR, The Pharmaletter reports. The Together for Girls public-private partnership, meanwhile, received $5 million in funding from PEPFAR.

  • The CONDOMIZE campaign was re-launched at the conference. An initiative led by the U.N. Population Fund and The Condom Project, the campaign aims to challenge the stigma still associated with condom use, which is “most efficient and available prevention technology in the global AIDS response.” The campaign also calls for increased access to quality condoms for HIV prevention.

  • For Brian Brink, Global Fund board member and senior vice president and chief medical officer at mining company Anglo-American, offering free HIV testing and treatment to employees “was one of the smartest business decisions we ever made.” Most of Anglo-America’s operations are in Africa and Brink believes businesses in the continent should work with the Global Fund to provide HIV testing and treatment for their employees too.

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributes to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.