UN Member States, in the Millennium Declaration of September 2000, unanimously committed themselves to fight poverty and other issues facing the world. MDG 6 commits them to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases. More must urgently be done to address the pandemic, especially as it affects Indigenous communities. We suggest three steps that must betaken in consultation with and supported by Indigenous people themselves.
1. Clearer identification of the scale of HIV/AIDS infection among indigenous persons, especially women. Indigenous persons experience multiple discriminations that extend even to the life and death issue of being identified as suffering from HIV/AIDS. It is hard to find accurate and detailed statistics on the spread of the pandemic within indigenous populations. They are often invisible. Disaggregated data is urgently needed so that the extent of infection among indigenous peoples can be accurately calculated. A more comprehensive method of data gathering is needed.
2. Overcoming the lack of access that indigenous persons suffer: This lack of access is experienced in three broad areas:
- Physical access: hospitals and healthcare resources are often not available to indigenous persons who lack money and transportation.
- Health access: Indigenous persons regularly lack access to the resources for diagnosis, treatment, and care available to non-indigenous persons.
- Information access: Indigenous persons often lack access to basic information on the causes, prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. Culturally sensitive education in accessible language must be made available to indigenous persons.
3. Aggressive effort is needed to reach appropriate persons, especially women, within indigenous communities to support them in identifying the scope of the pandemic and providing help to overcome cultural resistances and to offer hope.
- Identifying and building capacity among community leaders, men and women, and providing healthcare resources closer to where the people live. Information, training and provision of care must be culturally sensitive if it is to be acceptable.
- Use an approach more appropriate to the communal experience of Indigenous persons. We suggest an ‘accompaniment’ model, whereby resource persons walk side by side with indigenous persons, supporting them as they struggle to meet these specified needs. NGOs, faith groups and others have successfully used this accompaniment approach. It builds capacity and empowers at-risk and vulnerable people in alternative ways.
Success has been seen in countries and regions when a campaign to fight HIV/AIDS is given budgetary priority. Now is the time for these best practices to be replicated in other places for the welfare of all and especially of Indigenous persons.
(Prepared for NGO Committee on HIV/AIDS, Feb 2005)