UN Official Appeals to Fighting AIDS with Communities

November 21, 2013
By Chen ZhiEditor: Yang Zixin

UN Official Appeals to Fighting AIDS with Communities
The 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP11) opens in Bangkok on November 19. [Xinhua]
If the world aims at winning the battle against HIV/AIDS, one innovation that must take place is a stronger and more authentic partnership with the civil society, a UNAIDS official said.

"It is not that we do things for civil society. It is that we do things with civil society," said Steve Kraus, director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific.

In the fight against the epidemic, civil society, the government and the UN system have their respective roles, Kraus said on the sidelines of the 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP11).

The four-day congress, with the theme of "Asia/Pacific Reaching Triple Zero: Investing in Innovation," opened in Bangkok Tuesday.

"The Asia-Pacific region right now is almost in a transitional period, and it requires much more focus on interventions, programming and commitments to achieve our goal of triple zero," Kraus said.

"Triple zero" refers to UNAIDS' vision of achieving zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths.

Despite remarkable achievements the region has seen and exemplary initiatives compared to the rest of the world over the past five years, the number of new infections in Asia and the Pacific has remained unchanged, and there is a need for focused action to drive down new infections, Kraus noted.

"We still have 350,000 new infections taking place every year, and we have about 270,000 people dying every year from AIDS- related causes,"he said.

To address these challenges, the key innovation lies in building a stronger, more genuine and more trusting partnership with civil society groups, Kraus stressed.

A number of countries in the region have already worked out effective models of governments partnering with community-based organizations in targeting key populations, according to Kraus.

Kraus took China's Opiate Substitution Therapy (OST) program as an example, which has expanded over the years from a couple of pilot sites to 738 sites nationwide. "That's amazing. There is no other country that has done that," he said.

From all aspects, the program has been successful, said Kraus. "Crime rates go down, families stay together, and people receiving treatment can continue to work and be productive citizens."

The program is a good example of the partnership among the community, local health authorities and policymakers, he remarked.

According to Kraus, communities know how to reach key population at high risk, so with the government working closely with communities, HIV treatment coverage in Cambodia has reached 85 percent, one of the highest levels in the region.

Remarkable things happen when the government collaborates with communities, because it is a win-win strategy, Kraus said.

"It's a win for the government, for civil society and for the epidemic getting to zero," he said, adding it also promises better returns on HIV investments.

Kraus also urged Asia-Pacific countries to eliminate punitive laws, policies and practices, calling them "probably the No.1 thing that gets in the way."

It's very difficult to access prevention and treatment when countries criminalize same-sex sexual behavior, consensual adult sex in private or people whose sexual behavior is different from the majority, he said.

A UNAIDS regional report released Tuesday showed that significant legal and policy barriers still remain, thus impeding the AIDS response in the region.

Eleven countries, territories and areas still impose HIV- related restrictions, in one form or another, on entry, stay and residence, according to the report.

"We need to make sure that those kinds of issues are being addressed to,"Kraus said.

(Source: Xinhua)

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