The SAT organization holding a meeting in rural Zambia to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.
Grass roots organizations gain a voice in combating HIV/AIDS
The core of SAT’s operations is based on a strong belief in small, local organizations’ ability to be a part of the solution. They fulfil a function that cannot be replaced by international relief organizations or large-scale government initiatives. Their knowledge of the specific social and cultural contexts creates advantages when local societies are engaged in practical prevention efforts out in the field.
Anita Sandström, executive director of SAT and former head of Sida’s HIV/Aids team in Africa, says:
“We have a lot of faith in the solidarity and capacity that exist in the societies. We don’t come in with a ready-made programme; instead we talk to the organizations about their particular requirements. This could be anything from education in new prevention methods to strengthening their financial systems and management structures.”
SAT a vital link between local and regional operations
With Sida’s support, SAT is also growing to become an increasingly important partner within the regional networks that work with HIV/Aids in southern Africa. SAT’s experience from the field gives it a unique opportunity to pass on information in both directions. With part of its operations in the day-to-day work in towns and in rural areas and the other in various regional organizations, SAT can act as an important interface between people and ministries and between grass-roots organizations and regional networks.
“We can be an intermediary,” Sandström says. “We inform local organizations about new research findings and prevention methods. At the same time, we can highlight what we’ve learned from the field, both challenges and successes, up to the regional and international levels so that this knowledge can influence new political decisions that benefit the entire region.”
Knowledge driving change in the fight against HIV/Aids
SAT has many years of experience from working in very different environments and its findings have shown that epidemics in southern Africa are different from one another and have various driving forces. Information campaigns for youths and sex workers, support for people who are living with HIV and improved opportunities for testing are some examples of the various initiatives that match the different needs among SAT’s more than 130 local partners in five African countries.
In many places, intensive efforts by SAT’s partner organizations have led to a greater desire for people to test themselves, better access to professional medical care and an increased use of condoms. Education has improved people’s understanding of the disease and led to women achieving a stronger social position. It has also reduced the stigma against those who are HIV positive.
“Today, we can see that organizations have changed their prevention work a lot,” Sandström says. “They are now openly discussing the questions that are important to gain an understanding of the spread of HIV, such as parallel sexual relationships. It is important that a change in attitude comes from deep within society.”
Improving the capacity to drive prevention work in the local societies provides a long-term approach to the fight against HIV/Aids. If the spread of the disease is to be slowed, local resources must also be utilized. To achieve greater consistency in this work, local competence must be strengthened on a broad scale. And this competence must remain in place regardless of reduced medical care budgets or international relief efforts.
HIV/Aids in southern Africa: the facts
22.5 million people live with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.
68 per cent of the world’s adults and 90 per cent of the world’s children who are HIV positive live in southern Africa.
Most countries in the region have an HIV prevalence of over 15 per cent.
1.15 million people were infected in 2008, an average of 3,150 per day.
61 per cent of those who are HIV positive in the region are women.