Schweizerisches Rotes Kreuz

Prevention despite the taboo

The Swiss Red Cross has been a pioneer in doing prevention and antiretroviral treatment in Bangladesh as well as in other countries of Asia and Africa.

In this southern Asian country, 0.1 to 0.2% of the 160 million population are officially HIV positive. However, a large number of cases go unreported, because Aids is still very much taboo. One of the various consequences of this is that many people do not get tested even though they suspect they may be infected, and people with HIV do not get treatment.

Throughout the country only 700 Aids patients are receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART), over one quarter of them at the clinic that the SRC has been running since 2005 in cooperation with the local partner organization CAAP. At that time, it was the first clinic in the whole of Bangladesh to offer treatment for Aids. Now, 180 patients regularly obtain their medication at the clinic and receive counselling and follow-up treatment. This includes providing social assistance to HIV-positive mothers and their children and to patients that have been shunned by their families and friends because of their illness.

The most important aspect of the fight against HIV-Aids remains education. Information campaigns are carried out in the slums of Dhaka three or four days a week. Special attention is paid to risk groups such as prostitutes and drug addicts. In 2012, more than 1,860 people were reached with these information campaigns and 820 decided to come for a voluntary HIV test. «These tests are the first step towards halting the spread of AIDS,» says Jürg Frei, SRC head of operation in Bangladesh. «Only when someone knows his status can he behave responsibly and start treatment if necessary.»

Aids is still a major threat

In spite of progress in prevention and treatment, HIV-Aids is still a major threat worldwide. It is therefore still a priority for the SRC healthcare programmes to stem the spread of this insidious disease. In Africa, Asia, or Latin America, wherever Red Cross volunteers teach healthcare topics in villages and neighbourhoods, they always talk about how people can protect themselves from HIV and what treatments are available. In some countries like Swaziland, the SRC is working directly in Aids therapy, by giving sufferers access to treatment or by dispensing medication.

Prevention despite the taboo