Continuing with the Red Cross’ continual efforts to help people across the globe, HIV/AIDS prevention is of special importance. HIV/AIDS kills thousands each year and the Red Cross has taken measures to educate, counsel and outreach to those affected by the virus. So far the Red Cross is present in 14 countries across the globe, making significant efforts to bring HIV/AIDS programs to marginalized communities at higher risk of infection.
Along with peer counseling, outreach and education, the Red Cross participated in the International AIDS Conference, hosting a session youth leadership in response to HIV. Coming from across the globe for a united cause, a Field Officer from the Jamaican Red Cross, Romane Knight discussed the challenges, success, and realities that youth face in his home country to audience members. With support from the American Red Cross, Romane and his team advocate for de-stigmitazation, offer peer outreach and counseling, utilize social media, and utilize creative avenues to educate about prevention and care for those already living with HIV/AIDS. Another useful tool being used in Jamaica is resumé writing support to help people living with HIV/AIDS gain employment and decrease dependency on stipends.
Fighting HIV/AIDS is more than just a health issue. It’s also a human issue. The disease remains one of the most stigmatized illnesses, particularly impacting those who are already vulnerable and marginalized. Meaning those most susceptible to contracting and spreading the virus are also the least likely to have access to prevention and treatment options. According to Andy Meléndez-Salgado, senior HIV advisor with the American Red Cross, “Around the world, the Red Cross is well poised to reach vulnerable communities. The global network reaches those most in need even in the harder to reach places; we go to the last mile with programs that promote positive behavior change.”
The Caribbean is home to the second largest percentage of people living with HIV/AIDS. In 2009, the American Red Cross launched the Caribbean HIV and AIDS Program which works with the Red Cross in Jamaica, Guyana and the Bahamas. The goals of the program are to increase knowledge and understanding about the disease, build prevention capacity and change local attitutdes. It provides peer education, condom distribution, counseling, testing and other support to those living with HIV/AIDS. It also trains local people to be HIV educators, lead support groups and perform one-on-one outreach to youth, sex workers and other populations at higher risk.
According to Marianna Kuttothara, American Red Cross program officer for Latin America and the Caribbean, “Before you can enable people to seek help, you have to make sure they’re in an environment that supports that connection.”