Partnerships in HIV: Embracing Change and Getting Back to Basics

November 26, 2014

IFGH Conference 2014 Partnerships in Emergency Responses, HIV AIDS & Inclusive Health

Key Correspondent: Anna McCormick

As the global health community is scrambling to test experimental drugs, train staff and set up emergency response teams in the wake of Ebola, many have been reminded of the similar challenges caused by HIV in the 1980s. Both are viruses with no vaccination and which have originated in Africa. Both have evoked a sense of fear and caused widespread media driven panic.

There was a sense of how we much progress we have achieved in HIV since the 1980’s.

I attended the IFGH conference in Trinity College on the 6th and 7th of November, where both Ebola and HIV were discussed at length. A number of the speakers at the IFGH conference shared insights from the field in a session on ‘HIV, Disabilities and Inclusive Health’ which demonstrated the real impact that engaging in partnerships is having on enhancing HIV programmes. Breda Gahan outlined Concern’s use of peer support to increase the uptake of voluntary confidential counselling and testing in Sierra Leone. Zehara Said illustrated Concern’s success in forming partnerships with local organisations in order to prevent infection and reduce the impact of HIV in Ethiopia. From this she reported a resulting impact which was both more sustainable and increased through partnership. Deirdre Ni Cheallaigh’s work with Trocaire, helping individuals deal with HIV related stigma to improve agency, self-worth and ability to overcome stress, was particularly powerful to me.  Although this project is in its infancy, it really struck me as an example how far we have actually come. HIV is now seen as a chronic condition rather than a terminal illness. This progression has occurred because of the advance in diagnostic testing and life-saving drug therapies, coupled with funding initiatives which set out to make both universally accessible. No longer are we solely focusing on saving lives.  Now we are focusing on expanding the scope of programmes to helping people live positively and to fulfil their potential.

There is still a need to get back to basics.

As someone who has worked on HIV prevention and impact reduction programmes in Spain (the country with the highest HIV prevalence in Western Europe), I see that while we are embracing new opportunities and advances, we need to maintain focus on the basics.  Basics like education and disease testing, the same basics that are also being implemented in response to Ebola.

Figures show that at least one third of the 2.3 million people living with HIV in Europe are unaware that they are HIV positive. Late diagnosis and delayed access to treatment can lead to poorer health outcomes, higher costs and increased risk of transmission to others. This week marks the 2nd Annual European HIV testing week. This event unites partners internationally in promoting HIV testing in the run up to Word AIDS Day on December 1st. 13 organisations in Ireland have signed up to work together under this initiative to:

  • Offer HIV tests as a part of routine care
  •  Encourage people who are at high risk to get a HIV test
  •  Unite organisations in scaling up HIV testing
  • Make more policy makers aware of the socioeconomic benefits of HIV testing programmes.

 

Through successful innovative partnerships we have achieved progress in improving outcomes for people living with HIV.  With new partnerships we hope to learn from these previous successes and continue this progress forward into the management and prevention of other communicable diseases.

 

Anna McCormick

Key Correspondent

Email: ana.mccormick@gmail.com

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