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HIV/AIDS: Prevention continues to play a central part

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1 December, World AIDS Day 2009: Reduction of new infections

The good news on World AIDS Day is that the number of new infections worldwide has fallen by 17 per cent. However, prevention remains centrally important, because according to the United Nations most prevention campaigns do not achieve their goals. By providing support in the area of HIV/AIDS, the SDC not only helps to develop innovative projects but also strengthens health care systems and in this way contributes to prevention and to the care of AIDS patients.

"HIV/AIDS certainly has not been eradicated. We still face huge challenges if we are to tackle this pandemic. The biggest challenge is in the area of prevention," says Andreas Loebell, who is responsible for health in the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). He said that many lessons had been learnt in connection with the AIDS pandemic that were also very valuable in the prevention and treatment of other chronic illnesses for example. But apart from these good practices it had also become clear that certain approaches did not work, for example in relation to changing people's behaviour, Loebell explained.

Reduction in Africa, increase in East Europe

The HIV/AIDS programme UNAIDS drew similar conclusions in its 2009 AIDS Epidemic Update of 24 November, the annual report on the progress of the pandemic. In recent years new infections worldwide have fallen by 17 per cent. In sub-Saharan Africa, the worst-affected region, it fell by 15 per cent. Michel Sidibé, director of UNAIDS, said that at least some of this reduction could be attributed to prevention campaigns. However, the most recent findings have shown that prevention programs often failed to achieve the desired results. A change in mentality and in approaches was also called for. In some countries, such as Bangladesh and Pakistan, the incidence of HIV has increased in recent years, while in Eastern Europe and Central Asia it has risen by up to 66 per cent.

There are now more than 33 million HIV-positive people in the world, which means that more people than ever before are living with the virus that causes AIDS. Thanks to anti-retroviral medicines, which prevent the outbreak of AIDS, HIV-positive persons are now living longer. Even in developing countries, AIDS is no longer an automatic death sentence. For the growing number of HIV-positive persons with access to AIDS medicines, AIDS now means "living differently", according to Loebell. These figures highlight the central role of prevention.

Medicines and psycho-social care

This year's theme for World AIDS Day is "Universal Access and Human Rights". This refers not only to access to medicines and to medical care but also to psychological and social care. "HIV cannot be cured by medicines alone" says Loebell. "Psycho-social care is just as important." He added that the care package included the development of responsibility, respect for one's own body and that of others, coping strategies and the often-cited "empowerment" or "self-empowerment", which includes the awareness and the implementation of individual human rights.

The Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative REPSSI supported by the SDC in southern Africa began with the provision of assistance and care to affected children - children who had lost their parents to AIDS or were themselves infected with the virus. Today the programme's main aim is to raise the awareness of governments in the region about the need to take account of these children's needs and to identify and mobilise their own resources. About 1.9 million children under 15 in sub-Saharan Africa live with the HI virus, and most of these children are affected not only by AIDS but by poverty and conflicts.

Switzerland supports and works with partners

The SDC works with and supports various partners and actors on the ground: governments, non-governmental organisations, international and UN organisations (including UNAIDS, UNICEF, the World Health Organization WHO and the World Food Program WFP), the Federation of the Red Cross and of Red Crescent Societies as well as Swiss NGOs and platforms such as AIDS Focus Switzerland. Switzerland also makes an annual contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. In this way it supports the development and implementation of innovative programmes in the framework of psycho-social care and the strengthening of health care systems. Only efficient and well structured health systems can ensure that the problems of HIV-positive people and of HIV/AIDS victims are identified and tackled.

Event on 1 December 2009 in the Kornhausforum Bern

To mark World AIDS Day 2009, AIDS Focus Switzerland, the Swiss specialist platform for HIV/AIDS and international cooperation, is showing the documentary film "Memory Books". The film portrays the lives of five Ugandan children affected by HIV and AIDS. The showing will be followed by a discussion with film-maker Christa Graf. The SDC is the main financial supporter of AIDS Focus Switzerland.