BANGKOK - The United Nations World Food Programme and Thailand's leading AIDS activist has called on the international community to support home-based care for people living with HIV and AIDS, saying this is the most effective way to treat affected people in the developing world.
WFP Deputy Executive Director Sheila Sisulu and Senator Mechai Viravaidya joined forces at the XV International AIDS Conference to urge more contributions from donor governments, the private sector and the public. They emphasized that for a relatively modest cost, millions of people living with HIV and AIDS could be given the opportunity to rebuild their lives through home-based care.
"We have seen with our own eyes how individuals and families have been revived in a way that can almost be called miraculous," said Sisulu, emphasising that food is a central component of home-based care. "People who once were waiting to die are now raising their children and running small businesses. We owe it to HIV-positive people all over the world to marshal the resources to give them back their lives."
Senator Mechai, the former cabinet minister who led a ground-breaking AIDS awareness campaign in the early 1990s, said that the most effective care strategies draw on resources ranging from village leaders up to the biggest corporations and international aid agencies. Only through a broad, organic collaboration can positive people become healthy, financially autonomous and psychologically stable, said Senator Mechai.
"In Thailand, we saw a 90 percent decline in new cases of HIV over the last 12 years," said Senator Mechai, head of the Thailand-based Population and Community Development Association (PCDA). "Credit for that goes to a lot of people, a lot of communities, a lot of NGOs and businesses. Everyone played a part. That is true of both the prevention and care components in the fight against AIDS."
Speaking at a joint press briefing yesterday, the two leaders stressed the need for a global alliance among international aid agencies, governments, national institutions, local authorities and community groups to make home-based care accessible to all. They underlined the importance of willing partnerships among these sectors to ensure that food, medicine, counseling, microcredit and, where possible, anti-retroviral drugs get to affected families. And because home-based care teams deliver the treatment right to the household, patients are freed from the need for institutionalized care, which is not widely available in developing countries.
"Poor people, particularly in rural areas, are almost helpless against HIV and AIDS," said Sisulu. "But we know that it is possible to send home-based care teams even into isolated areas hours away from the nearest medical clinic. Two people on motorbikes and a monthly ration of basic food and medicines can mean the difference between death and a self-sustaining way of life for countless families."
In Asia, WFP has launched home-based care in Cambodia and Myanmar over the last two years in conjunction with international and national NGOs. The experience in these countries has shown that through partnerships between the humanitarian providers and the local leadership, a community can learn to welcome the HIV-positive people who might otherwise be outcasts.
"Even if anti-retroviral drugs are not available, food aid ensures that a household can keep going," noted Sisulu. "If a family does not have as its first priority the search for food, then it is more likely that the children will stay in school and young people won't be pressured to migrate for jobs or engage in sex work."
Sisulu announced that people wishing to donate to WFP's HIV and AIDS operations can now do so through a new online donation page on the WFP website. The page, which will carry news stories and features about WFP's work in HIV and AIDS, was unveiled during the XV International AIDS Conference here this week. (Visit www.wfp.org)
Food assistance from WFP, which became an official co-sponsor of UNAIDS last September, helps keep parents alive longer, enables orphans and vulnerable children to stay in school, permits out-of-school youth to secure viable livelihoods and enables TB patients to complete their treatment. WFP helps poor households affected by hunger and AIDS by using food aid and other resources to address prevention, care and support.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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