Call for action as ERNA meets in Kiev

From: “Passiton” 22 September 2005

European Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have been urged to show a greater commitment in working with government, NGOs and all organisations involved in the fight against the spread of HIV and tuberculosis. The call was made by Anders Milton, president of the European Regional Network on AIDS (ERNA) when it met last weekend in Kiev, Ukraine. Dr Milton stressed that national societies should work in all aspects of prevention and treatment, being sure to include people living with HIV and AIDS, and injecting drug users at all levels. The meeting also agreed that Red Cross and Red Crescent societies had a vital role to play in harm reduction, and should scale up this work. The meeting is the last of its kind before next year’s Moscow conference which will bring together all National Societies at a meeting for Europe and Central Asia. A total of 36 societies were present at ERNA, which ran from 16-19 September. Much work was done to clarify messages and strategies.

The theme of the meeting was “Advocacy and Action: What are the achievements?” Many National Societies took the opportunity to highlight their programmes or advocacy work. One example was Sholpan Ramazanova, Head of Health Department, Kazakhstan Red Crescent. “Our programme experience in Kazakhstan shows that cooperation with government institutions is crucial for successful programme implementation”, she noted. “Before starting up health projects in Kazakhstan, we always try to reach an agreement and to explore ways for joint collaboration.” ERNA is widely regarded as one of the most successful regional Red Cross Red Crescent networks. Now in its ninth year, the Kiev meeting attracted speakers from the government of Ukraine, the International Harm Reduction Association, the Global HIV Alliance, UNAIDS, WHO, Villa Maraini, the Senlis Council and the Global Network of People Living with AIDS (GNP+). GNP+ representative Julian Hows stressed the importance of the collaboration between the Red Cross Red Crescent and people living with HIV and AIDS. “Don’t do anything for us, without us”, he said.

The meeting also attracted a high-level delegation from the Federation Secretariat in Geneva, including the head of Europe and health departments, the manager of the HIV/AIDS unit and the Federation’s Vice-President (and ERNA’s founder) Massimo Barra. Appealing for ever-greater efforts, Dr Barra said, “We can make the difference between life and death for millions of people.” “We need mobilization. Mobilization means not only governments, but also private sector and citizens. “We are in different, closer positions to government then other NGOs. That’s both our advantage and responsibility. You should take this chance in your countries and cooperate with other non-governmental and governmental organizations,” Dr Barra said. The choice of Ukraine as a venue was significant, as it is has one of the fast-growing rates of HIV infection in the world. Its rate of TB infection is also running at very high levels. “It’s really symbolic for us that the conference is held here” said Dr. Ivan Usichenko, President of the Ukrainian Red Cross.

“Today Ukraine has a leading place in spreading of HIV/AIDS epidemics in Europe, and this meeting should help us to decide what directions Red Cross Societies should take in Europe, how can we strengthen the role of the Red Cross in our advocacy, anti-stigma and anti-discrimination work”. Participants showed their solidarity with people living with AIDS by joining with over 7,000 runners in the three-kilometre “Race for Life”, a UNAIDS-led fun-run through the streets of Kiev.