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Community-based health volunteers key in fighting HIV/AIDS
06 April 2006

A Red Cross volunteer lights candles forming a ribbon, the symbol for solidarity with AIDS patients in Bujumbura, Burundi on 25 March 2006. (AFP/File/Dimitar Dilkoff)A Red Cross volunteer lights candles forming a ribbon, the symbol for solidarity with AIDS patients in Bujumbura, Burundi on 25 March 2006. (AFP/File/Dimitar Dilkoff)
Johannesburg, South Africa: On the eve of World Health Day (7 April), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies highlights the growing importance of its volunteers involved in community health activities, especially activities related to HIV/AIDS.

According to the World Health Organization, there is an estimated shortage of four million health workers worldwide, with severe deficiencies in low-income countries and rural areas.  Red Cross/Red Crescent volunteers are playing a key support role and increasing the skills of people living with HIV and families for self care, especially in places where national health systems do not respond adequately to the needs of the local population.

The work of volunteers is being highlighted during a Symposium in Johannesburg on April 6-7 about integrated HIV/AIDS community home-based care. The event is organized by the International Federation in partnership with 10 National Societies in Southern Africa. “The Red Cross Red Crescent has accumulated a great deal of experience in home-based care programmes”, says Bernard Gardiner, manager of the Global HIV/AIDS programme for the International Federation in Geneva. “As a result, there has been a demand from other organizations for the Red Cross Red Crescent to share their experiences and knowledge,” he adds.

The Red Cross Red Crescent comparative advantage in care programming is due to its effective use of the widespread network of trained community-based volunteers who provide care and support services to the chronically ill and family members in their homes, which is also a valuable support to overburdened health facilities. The same community-based volunteers also give advice on HIV/AIDS prevention, hygiene, food and nutrition, water and sanitation, prevention of tuberculosis and malaria and adherence to treatment. They are also involved in anti-stigma campaigns with people living with HIV/AIDS.

At present, home-based care programmes run by National Societies in Southern Africa are reaching 50,000 people and approximately 85,000 orphans and other children made vulnerable by AIDS. The Johannesburg Symposium will see the launch of the new five year HIV/AIDS strategy in the region, further promoting home-based care and treatment support. “It is time to share the knowledge and experience which has been built up in Southern Africa and to champion the work of the committed and devoted Red Cross volunteers,” says Françoise Le Goff, Head of the International Federation’s regional delegation in Harare.