MADISON, Wis.—This Saturday, December 1, World AIDS Day serves to recognize the 33.2 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS. This year’s theme, Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise-Leadership, challenges people to take the lead at every level to combat and overcome the disease. Credit unions around the world are getting involved, and some are leading the fight against HIV/AIDS in their communities.
Some 2.5 million people were newly infected with the HIV virus in 2007. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most affected region, home to more than two-thirds (68%) of all people infected with HIV. As the disease spreads, the economic and social impact is devastating in countries where many people struggle to get by on less than US$1 per day.
“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, World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) president and CEO.
Several African credit unions (known as savings and credit co-operatives, SACCOs) are working hard to show the world that leadership and education are making a difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Mwalimu SACCO Members Educate a Community
More than 3 million people in Kenya, including 16% of the adult population, are HIV-positive. Mwalimu SACCO serves secondary school teachers in the country and is one of the largest SACCOs in Kenya.
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. The peer education model is based on the idea that groups of members can be trained to effect change in others. Peer educators are trained to be opinion leaders and act as agents of change by disseminating information and influencing their communities.
Mwalimu SACCO members—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 “cascade of information.”
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.
Sibanye Cape SACCO Provides Free Testing on World AIDS Day
In February 2006, Shameem Gaffoor, a Strathmore-WOCCU African Management Institute (SWAMI) 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,” Shameem 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 difference between HIV and AIDS and presenting on the devastating effects of the pandemic.
Since 1988, World AIDS Day has been observed annually on December 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.
World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 57,000 credit unions in 105 countries serve 217 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.