MADISON, Wis. -- Credit unions around the globe continue to join the fight to eradicate HIV/AIDS.
World AIDS Day, which took place Dec. 1, carried a stronger message this year: Stop Aids. Keep the Promise-Leadership. The challenge is for people to take the lead at every level to combat and overcome the disease, according to the World Council of Credit Unions. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most affected region, home to more than two-thirds of all people infected with HIV, WOCCU noted. Worldwide, some 2.5 million people were newly infected with the HIV virus in 2007.
Several African credit unions, known as savings and credit co-operatives or SACCOs, are working hard to show the world that leadership and education are making a difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS. WOCCU's USAID-funded Cooperative Development Program, in partnership with JHPIEGO, an international health organization affiliated with The Johns Hopkins University, supported the launch of an HIV/AIDS peer educator program with Mwalimu SACCO in 2006.
More than 3 million people in Kenya, including 16% of the adult population, are HIV-positive, according to WOCCU. Mwalimu SACCO serves secondary school teachers in the country and is one of the largest SACCOs in Kenya.
WOCCU said Mwalimu SACCO members, who are teachers by profession, are ideal peer leaders because they are well respected and well positioned to disseminate the information through multiple channels, such as schools and classrooms, parent/teacher associations and extracurricular activities. To date, there are 27 certified peer leaders. Each leader trains five peer educators who then continue the information flow.
Peer educators seize various opportunities to raise awareness. They discuss safe sex practices at the national exam briefing for high school students and highlight basic HIV/AIDS facts at local drama festivals for students and teachers. These activities help dispel the stigma surrounding the disease and encourage positive living.
In February 2006, Shameem Gaffoor, a Strathmore-WOCCU African Management Institute graduate and loan officer for Sibanye Cape SACCO in South Africa, formed an HIV/AIDS committee comprised of one board member and three SACCO staff members. The committee formed relationships with other non-profits in Cape Town to gather information and directly pass it on to their members. It was the first program of its kind in South Africa.
Gaffoor and her team believe everyone should have access to testing and know his or her status.
"Those living with HIV/AIDS deserve to be loved, cared for and treated with respect," Gaffoor emphasized, and her committee's efforts have made an impact on the way people address the virus.
To celebrate World AIDS Day, Sibanye Cape SACCO is providing free access to a testing facility for its members. The SACCO is also distributing brochures with facts on the differences between HIV and AIDS and presenting on the devastating effects of the pandemic.
"As trusted, member-owned organizations in their communities, credit unions are effective vehicles for raising awareness, sharing information and mitigating the spread of HIV/AIDS through prevention," said Pete Crear, president/CEO, WOCCU.
Since 1988, World AIDS Day has been observed annually on Dec.1 and is dedicated to raising awareness of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. December is World AIDS month. For ideas on raising awareness about World AIDS month in your community, visit www.worldaidscampaign.info.