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World AIDS Day: Communities must 'take charge of their own destinies' says Red Cross

Saturday December 1, 2007

Communities must be at the forefront of the fight against HIV and tackling gender inequalities must be at the centre of our efforts, says Red Cross on World AIDS Day.

'The theme for World AIDS Day 2007 is 'leadership'. This is not just for governments, health professionals, and organisations involved in HIV work. There is no substitute for communities taking charge of their own destinies,' says Dale Cleaver, Acting CEO Australian Red Cross.

'The HIV epidemic in Indonesia is among the fastest growing in Asia, which is why empowering communities is at the centre of Australian Red Cross HIV programs in tsunami affected Banda Aceh.'

Significant progress has been made in Aceh over the past few years to allow more open dialogue about HIV and AIDS in what is normally a relatively conservative part of the world. The successes of the World Aids Day and Candlelight Memorial public events in 2006 and 2007 are indications that this approach is working.

Irma Anintya Tasya, an HIV Program coordinator for Australian Red Cross in Banda Aceh, is leading some of the community empowerment programs in the region.

'One of the main activities on World AIDS day will be the second 'Long March', with thousands of local people and Red Cross volunteers and workers marching along the main roads of Banda Aceh, distributing information and encouraging people to participate in the other activities' said Irma.

'Activities like this help to educate people about the risks involving HIV and AIDS, and also clear up incorrect beliefs around AIDS. We don't talk about sex but we talk around it- we teach them that you can't contract it through mosquito bites or by shaking hands!'

Exactly a year ago, the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent launched its new Global Alliance on HIV, with a commitment to double programming by 2010. Some 50 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are now actively scaling-up their efforts to 'do more and do better' on HIV through community outreach by members and volunteers living among and targeting the most vulnerable groups.