Burundi: HIV/AIDS researcher praises action of local NGOs

News and Press Release
Originally published
BUJUMBURA, 26 February (PLUSNEWS) - An HIV/AIDS researcher for Save the Children UK, Dr Vera Bensmann, has presented the findings and recommendations of a nine-month study on the humanitarian response to the pandemic in Burundi, the UN Office for the Coordination in Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported last week.
In her presentation, delivered on Monday to a 100-strong audience at the National Institute for Public Health in the capital, Bujumbura, Bensmann praised the response by the local NGOs.

"It is encouraging to see that national organisations are doing an amazing job - organisations like Swaa-Burundi [Society for Women Against AIDS IN Africa] and FVS [Familles pour vaincre SIDA]," she said.

It was encouraging, she added, that most actors were aware, either in the field or at headquarters level, of the humanitarian and developmental importance of tackling the HIV/AIDS pandemic. "The question today, is what form that response will take," she said.

Most programmes, notably by international NGOs (INGOs), focused on prevention issues.

"We can ill afford to ignore the needs of those people living with HIV/AIDS," she said. "We have to act, not only to prevent the spread of the disease but also to ensure that those already infected remain in good health."

"Too often too many people die needlessly," she said. "HIV/AIDS today is not an automatic death sentence. Healthy carriers can live, support their family and contribute to the productive economy for years, if not decades."

OCHA's spokesman in Burundi, Nicholas McGowan, welcomed the publication of the report and urged its broad dissemination. "We have directly linked the report with our OCHA Burundi website, and hope that other HIV/AIDS actors will benefit from this valuable research," he said.

The National AIDS Council was established in Burundi in mid-2002. The creation of this body represented an opportunity for the NGOs and INGOs to work together to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Bensmann said.

The time had come for increased HIV/AIDS information sharing, information dissemination and true programme collaboration among all the HIV/AIDS actors. "All too often, many organisations replicate very similar studies, neglect to share study results, or simply fail to coordinate a structured response. This failure leads to scattered programming that lacks the necessary structure that can provide an efficient and effective response to HIV/AIDS," she said.

Another common phenomenon among INGOs, she observed, was the extent to which programmes were hurriedly designed, often with insufficient research and analysis, but under pressure to ensure continuation of short-term donor funding, or to avoid a funding gap which would otherwise leave the programmes unfunded. "There is no substitute for thorough programme planning underpinned by accurate needs assessments and analysis of the situation and role played by other actors in the field," Bensmann said.

She called on INGOs to use their expertise, share their experience, and work in true collaboration with national NGOs and the government, through the National AIDS Council, for the betterment of all Burundians, particularly those living with, or affected by HIV/AIDS.

There are about 390,000 adults and children living with HIV/AIDS in Burundi, OCHA said.

[OCHA's Burundi website is at http://www.reliefweb.int/ochaburundi/]


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