Shobha Shukla – CNS
(CNS): The Commission on AIDS in Asia report (March 2008) gave an Asian perspective to HIV epidemic and had put forth evidence-based recommendations to improve HIV responses locally. “The Commission on AIDS in Asia report had a major impact because for the first time somebody has said very clearly about Asian epidemic. Otherwise generally all epidemics in the world are put in the same bracket along with Africa and same solutions are prescribed to everybody” said Dr JVR Prasada Rao, Senior Adviser to UNAIDS Executive Director. Dr Rao gave an exclusive interview to CNS at the 10th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (10th ICAAP).
Added Dr Rao: “Here for the first time Asian epidemic, its epidemiology, response, etc, have been identified and it has been very clearly mentioned in the report. When we went to the countries, we realized that this is what they wanted actually.”
The Commission on AIDS in Asia was an independent body established in July 2006. It brought together nine of the region’s leading development economists, epidemiologists, policy-makers and civil society representatives working on the AIDS epidemic. Over a period of 18 months, the Commission conducted a thorough analysis of the developmental consequences of the AIDS epidemic in the region, and its medium to long term implications on the socio-economic environment. These findings were summarized in a report, “Report of the Commission on AIDS in Asia, Redefining AIDS in Asia: Crafting an Effective Response”, presented to the UN Secretary General in March 2008, with recommendations for a set of measures designed to mobilize leaders to adequately respond to the epidemic in the region. This process coincided with other global and regional processes.
The Civil Society Representative (Frika Iskandar) of the Commission on AIDS in Asia aimed to help ensure with support from Health and Development Networks (HDN, www.hdnet.org) that civil society opinion and input from the region was fully incorporated into the work it was mandated to accomplish. It was recognized that the voices of wider community were necessary to influence the development of the Commission on AIDS in Asia recommendations and to ensure that civil society’s key AIDS priorities were clearly represented in the final recommendations and supported by a body of evidence from a broad range of stakeholders. The Commission on AIDS in Asia recommendations could ultimately change how governments develop and make decisions about national AIDS policies and programmes. An open, realistic, unbiased, and practical strategy for civil society consultation was used to reach out to as many different AIDS stakeholders as possible in the Asia region.
As a result, civil society has been a driving force in using the Commission on AIDS in Asia recommendations for their advocacy work in the region, increase communities’ awareness of the report and working UNAIDS and governments.
“When the report was ready, we got it launched by the UN Secretary General that was the highest level advocacy for the report which is very unusual and happened because it is an unusual report and UN Secretary General to launch it was a great thing. So, entire UN system owned it. We didn’t leave it there after the launch, rather went to country-by-country, especially important countries, and we engaged the highest political leadership in a dialogue and made them launch the report. We launched it in China, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Viet Nam among other nations. That has really helped us in getting the necessary political support” said Dr Prasada Rao who has earlier headed India’s AIDS programme and Asia-Pacific Regional Support Team of UNAIDS.
Not only efforts went in ensuring a political support for the Commission on AIDS in Asia report, but also donors were informed about the report outcomes so that proposals reflecting the local needs can be supported. “Similarly on the funding side, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (The Global Fund) being the most important funding organization, we had sent a copy of the report to the Global Fund – I personally went and gave it to Dr Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director, The Global Fund, and also to their technical review panel (TRP) that actually processes the proposals. This has helped us in TRP accepting proposals which actually Commission had recommended as high impact proposals. That is why I think Commission had a tremendous impact on political thinking and also with the donors” said Dr Rao.
More than three years after the Commission on AIDS in Asia report was handed to the countries in Asian region, we do hope that the desired outcomes at country level are as pronounced as expected. (CNS)
Shobha Shukla - CNS (The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS) and is reporting on-site from 10th ICAAP, Busan, South Korea for CNS. She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP and taught physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: http://www.citizen-news.org)