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World Aids Day: the ICRC approach

01-12-2005 Feature

Globally, more than 40 million people suffer from HIV/AIDS, the majority of them Africans. Although not an inherent part of its mandate, the ICRC strives to raise awareness of issues surrounding HIV/AIDS in conflict affected areas with a particular emphasis placed on detainees.

With more than 40 million people infected worldwide, three quarters of them in Africa, the scourge of AIDS has coursed across the world over the last twenty years. Although not an inherent part of the ICRC's mandate, the link between conflict and the spread of the disease is undeniable.
Factors that directly or indirectly foster infection rates include the general breakdown of society, the destruction of health, education and communications systems, the unavailability of medicines and condoms, population movements, rape, prostitution, the use of child soldiers and trafficking in arms, drugs and other materials.

World Aids Day - 1st of December 2005  
In many countries HIV positive rates are far higher among the armed forces even in peacetime. This also applies to certain peace-keeping forces who may also become a contributory factor in the spread of the pandemic.
In the prison environment, HIV is just as prevalent if not more so. However, this is often denied or overlooked by the authorities concerned. A lack of information may be compounded by the failure to acknowledge facts such as the circulation of drugs and sexual activity between men. Sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, are among the most frequently diagnosed medical conditions in prisons worldwide.

 The role of the ICRC  


The magnitude of the pandemic and the frequently limited supply of material and financial resources in the countries affected calls for the attention of every possible actor, including the ICRC. In all its activities in this domain the organization places particular importance on cooperation with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.


The ICRC is involved in the following ways:

  • drawing the attention of the authorities concerned to their duties and responsibilities to all citizens, including detainees

  • encouraging the exchange of information between all those w ho can help in HIV/AIDS prevention and groups at risk (e.g. prison warders, detainees, the armed forces)

  • supporting national policies on HIV/AIDS and encouraging the integration of such policies into domestic health services

  • training ICRC delegates and employees in issues surrounding HIV/AIDS

  • supporting locally organized activities to mark World Aids Day


The following are just some examples of ICRC intervention relating to HIV/AIDS over the last five years.

 Burundi and Rwanda  


In collaboration with a local non-governmental organization, the SWAA (Society of Women Against Aids), the ICRC has begun to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS among detainees, to provide voluntary HIV testing and counselling, to treat the major associated opportunistic infections and is lobbying to make anti-retroviral therapy available to detainees.



Through a local partner, the LPPA (Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association) the ICRC has initiated a project within Maseru central prison with the aim of raising awareness, providing voluntary HIV testing and counselling and lobbying for access to anti-retroviral drugs.



The ICRC encourages local health authorities to include detainees in HIV/AIDS programmes.



The ICRC is supporting the penitentiary medical services to improve HIV/AIDS programmes in places of detention.



A survey on infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS has been carried out among detainees with the aim of conducting a prevention programme.