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Red Cross Red Crescent welcomes Global Fund move to tackle HIV/AIDS among injecting drug users – October 19, 2003

A decision by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM) to finance HIV/AIDS prevention and care programmes among injecting drug users in Thailand and Russia, has been welcomed by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies as a significant step in tackling the issue. In welcoming this move, Dr Massimo Barra, a GFATM board member and veteran of the Italian Red Cross HIV/AIDS and harm reduction response, also called for more programmes that follow humanitarian and public health principles.

“The stigma attached to drug use is causing further marginalization of this most vulnerable group and this is directly impeding efforts to prevent the spread of HIV. Forcing drug-users further underground and into situations where transmission of HIV/AIDS is more likely and denying them access to life-saving treatment and prevention services, is creating a public health disaster,” he said. “This happens even though the evidence from scientific and medical research on best practices and cost benefit analyses is overwhelmingly in favour of harm reduction programming”.

The International Federation sees programmes tackling the transmission of HIV/AIDS through shared needle use and the stigma and discrimination associated with it, as essential to the battle against the pandemic. Red Cross societies in Europe, including Russia, have begun such initiatives, including needle exchange and drug treatment.

The approval of the a US$ 1.38 million grant for Care Thailand and US$ 88.7 million for a non-governmental organization (NGO) consortium in Russia came at a meeting of the GFATM board in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. It is the first time that the Global Fund has backed harm reduction efforts in South East Asia, parts of which are witnessing an HIV/AIDS epidemic fuelled by injecting drug use. Injecting drug user groups and NGO’s have participated in efforts to develop country specific programmes for Global Fund financing around the world, but have found it difficult to convince some Ministries of the need for programmes to tackle HIV transmission through needle sharing. This despite injecting drug use being the main factor in the HIV/AIDS epidemic in areas such as Eastern Europe.

The grants to Thailand and Russia was one piece of positive news emerging from this latest GFATM board meeting. The Fund is still dramatically short of money promised by rich countries to scale up the HIV/AIDS battle as agreed at a special UN General Assembly (UNGASS) two years ago in New York. In this funding round, fewer people will be given access to anti-retroviral treatment through Global Fund money than on previous funding rounds, particularly in Africa.

This despite global targets to increase the number of people with access to HIV/AIDS treatment. “This is just not good enough. The Fund should be growing – not shrinking,” said Bernard Gardiner, manager of the International Federation’s global HIV/AIDS programme. “At UNGASS, all countries agreed to specific objectives to stop HIV/AIDS. It is not only time to honour those promises to keep people alive, but imperative to do so.” For further information, or to set up interviews, please contact: In Geneva Jemini Pandya, Press Officer – Tel: + 41 79 217 33 74 / +41 22 730 4570 Media Service Duty Phone – Tel: + 41 79 416 38 81 In Bangkok Rosemarie North, Regional Information Delegate – Tel: + 661 823 9218 The Geneva-based International Federation promotes the humanitarian activities of 178 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies among vulnerable people. By coordinating international disaster relief and encouraging development support, it seeks to prevent and alleviate human suffering. The Federation, National Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross together, constitute the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

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