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Editorial | Communities make the difference

HIV/AIDS continues to hound mankind. In the Philippines, statistics of infection have become so alarming – more than our neighboring countries. Last Sunday, the world marked World AIDS Day to highlight the need for everyone to contribute to curbing the pandemic. UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima’s message was to allow communities to take the lead in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS.

She stressed: “I believe in communities. Communities make change happen. Communities are the best hope for ending AIDS because communities have fought against HIV right from the beginning!

“As the epidemic raged through our countries, cities, villages, women held communities together and bore the higher burden of care for their families. For far too long we have taken their volunteerism for granted.

“In the face of adversity, communities of gay men, sex workers and people who use drugs have organized themselves to claim their right to health as equal citizens. So, we know that communities have proved their worth. There is no debate there.”

This year’s theme is “Communities make the difference” which recognizes the role of communities to respond to the call of curbing HIV/AIDS at the international, national and local levels.

According to UNAIDS, “communities contribute to the AIDS response in many different ways. Their leadership and advocacy ensure that the response remains relevant and grounded, keeping people at the centre and leaving no one behind. Communities include peer educators, networks of people living with or affected by HIV, such as gay men and other men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers, women and young people, counselors, community health workers, door-to-door service providers, civil society organizations and grass-roots activists.

“World AIDS Day offers an important platform to highlight the role of communities at a time when reduced funding and a shrinking space for civil society are putting the sustainability of services and advocacy efforts in jeopardy. Greater mobilization of communities is urgently required to address the barriers that stop communities delivering services, including restrictions on registration and an absence of social contracting modalities. The strong advocacy role played by communities is needed more than ever to ensure that AIDS remains on the political agenda, that human rights are respected and that decision-makers and implementers are held accountable.”

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