Governments, the international community, development agencies, community organisations and individuals need to focus more on fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS, according to a workshop on HIV/AIDS organised by the Catholic Institute for International Relations in Jinja, Uganda, from 13 to 15 May. National governments need to ensure that everyone has access to affordable drugs for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, the workshop said. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) need to lobby local and national governments, international organisations, faith communities and pharmaceutical companies so that life-saving anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs are available for all. Although the price of ARVs has dropped, it is still too high for most Africans, the workshop heard. Many Ugandans live on less than $1 a day and cannot pay $40 a week for the cheapest drugs in Uganda. Activists need to influence leadership at all levels to bring about changes in policy, the workshop said. Religious, social and community leaders need to lead by example and hold each other accountable. They need to challenge discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS and affirm their human dignity. NGOs need to build strong coalitions and networks to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and create pressure groups, the workshop said. They need to use local, national and international media to share information about the disease and the lives of those affected by it. The workshop also looked at topics such as HIV/AIDS as a human rights issue, the role of umbrella organisations and local non-government organisations in HIV/AIDS work, community level interventions on HIV/AIDS, and the role of faith-based organisations in HIV/AIDS work. Participants discussed the major gains made by Uganda in the fight against HIV/AIDS. In 1993, 30 per cent of the population was HIV-positive - the highest rate in the world - but by 2003 only 6.5 per cent were. Major government information campaigns, prevention work by community groups and support from Christians and Muslims have led to a sharp drop in discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS and increased support. CIIR joint programme manager for Zimbabwe and Namibia Ron Norgard said: 'Uganda demonstrates that there can be an effective response to HIV/AIDS. The West needs to support this by taking urgent steps to improve access to treatment.' Rhobbinah Ssebbowa of ActionAid Uganda told the workshop: 'Respecting and fulfilling the human rights of all individuals is indispensable to reducing the rates of infection of HIV/AIDS, expanding access to care and treatment and mitigating the impact of the epidemic.' On the topic of faith-based work on HIV/AIDS, CIIR executive director Christine Allen said: 'Faith based organisations need to preach love and tolerance and give pastoral care for those living and dying with AIDS. Secular and faith organisations need to work together, recognising the contributions each can make.' The workshop included participants from CIIR's London office, Namibia, Peru, Somaliland, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe It was hosted by Integrated Development Activities and AIDS Concern (IDAAC), a Ugandan NGO. Source: CIIR
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