New Delhi, March 15, 2010 - With more than 2.5 million people now living with HIV and AIDS in the countries of South Asia, 200 leaders from civil society, government, international development, academia, and other key groups from across the region are meeting in Delhi this week to discuss how best to confront social attitudes of stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV/AIDS. Evidence shows that behavior of this kind strongly undermines the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment programs.
Participants at the regional forum, which is called Sharing Lessons Learned from Community Innovations - Reducing Barriers to Effective HIV Prevention, will look for innovative solutions to reduce stigma and discrimination from the work of 26 regional groups whose grassroots programs won prizes in 2008 from the World Bank’s South Asia Regional Development Marketplace (SARDM). The Bank holds its South Asia Marketplace competition every year to find enterprising new community solutions to pressing development challenges.
Financed by a grant of one million dollars, the 26 SARDM winners from six countries in the region worked with marginalized groups most affected by discrimination, such as sex workers, injecting drug users, and others, over a period of 12-18 months to see how best to fight social aversion to their HIV status and their efforts to promote more effective HIV/AIDS programs.
Speaking at the opening of the Forum?convened by the World Bank, the National AIDS Control Organization of India (NACO), and the Avahan Program supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? the World Bank’s acting Vice President for Human Development praised the results of the 26 South Asian Marketplace winners who received grants to initiate their projects at an awards ceremony 18 months ago in Mumbai.
“These remarkable programs have now touched the lives of 100,000 people across South Asia,” said Julian Schweitzer, the World Bank’s acting Vice President for Human Development. “From HIV- positive people trained to use radio journalism to fight discrimination to traditional folk art trying to change people’s attitude and practice, the results have been very impressive. At our Knowledge Forum in Delhi this week, we are learning about tried and true ideas that really work. Our hope is that we can persuade government and community leaders and others to take these on-board and expand them and take them nationwide.”
In addition to the SARDM winners who will share their results, community groups funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s ‘Avahan’ program will also present their experiences on how to involve community members throughout the continuum of prevention, treatment and care. The Forum also provides an opportunity for national programs to discuss their experiences in expanding prevention programs, and to showcase proven ways for community-based organizations to work more effectively with media, secure financial backing, and to monitor and evaluate their programs.
“We all know that stigma is an important road block to vulnerable groups wanting to access HIV/AIDS services. But unfortunately we do not know enough about how to overcome and tackle stigma. These innovations that have been done in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and Nepal, reach out to about a hundred thousand people which is a remarkable number and we hope to learn from their success as the experiments and techniques that have been used are innovative and ground breaking,” said Shabana Azmi, the renowned film actor and social activist who was the Special Guest of the World Bank’s at its South Asia Regional Development Marketplace award ceremony in May, 2008.
“Experience from these grassroots initiatives show that when communities are engaged and empowered, behavioral and social changes happen, stigma, discrimination and violence are tackled up front, and barriers to effective HIV prevention are reduced,” said Paul De Lay, Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS, which coordinates the AIDS efforts and resources of ten UN system organizations to help the world prevent new HIV infections, care for people living with HIV, and mitigate the impact of the epidemic.