Princess Stephanie of Monaco visits Madagascar
09 November 2007
UNAIDS Special Representative HSH Princess Stephanie of Monaco visited Madagascar to raise awareness around HIV-related stigma and discrimination. The visit was the first in her role as UNAIDS Special Representative and she met with a number of different groups and organisations working on AIDS issues in the country.
Appointed UNAIDS Special Representative in October 2006, the Princess is a keen advocate for AIDS issues and has been President of the Monegasque association ‘Fight AIDS Monaco’ since 2004. Fight AIDS Monaco is a group that works primarily on disseminating accurate information about HIV, HIV prevention issues and providing support to people living with and affected by HIV.
During her trip to Madagascar, the Princess took the opportunity to visit some of the projects funded by Fight AIDS Monaco and pledged to continue to support their work.
She also visited several hospitals and centres that offer voluntary counselling and testing services. At one of the centres, the Municipal Bureau of Hygiene, she spoke with staff to learn more about how voluntary counselling and testing is integrated in the wider hospital services.
She also met with the President and members of “Finoana Fanantenana Fitiavana” which translates as “belief, hope and love”, and is an association of people living with HIV housed within the Bureau of Hygiene. The association is the first in Madagascar to provide psychosocial support to people living with HIV and has served as a model for the 23 other associations now offering similar services across Madagascar. The President explained to the Princess how the association supports its members to live positively with HIV despite the daily challenges they face and the fears that many people have in living openly with HIV.
At the Befelatanana Joseh Raseta hospital, the Princess met with medical staff engaged in providing nutritional support and care for people living with HIV through an emergency fund. The fund finances nutrition for patients who are unable to pay for themselves. The Princess encouraged the initiative and the efforts already demonstrated by the hospital and ensured her continued support through her association “Fight AIDS Monaco”.
The Princess also visited Sambatra Izay Salama, a local non-governmental organisation providing support to people living with HIV. She was invited to observe various activities at the centre including a session on education and information for commercial sex workers and voluntary testing and counselling activities.
One of the Princesses’ main areas of interest is working with children and learning more about how they become vulnerable to HIV infection. At the Grain de Bitume center - an association working on re-socializing street children and children who have been abused – she had the opportunity to play with the children and enjoy a circus performance they organized in honour of her visit. The efforts of the association contribute to reduce the vulnerability of the children to HIV.
Focusing on sharing key messages related to reducing stigma and discrimination, the Princess met with national and local leaders involved in the national AIDS response. This included discussions with the President of the Republic Mr. Marc Ravalomanana, who is personally engaged in the response to AIDS, and M. Fenosoa Ratsimanetrimanana, Executive Secretary of the National AIDS Council and who coordinates the national response to AIDS in Madagascar. The Princess congratulated the President for his engagement in the response to AIDS and remarked that the high level of investment in HIV prevention programmes is a great example which many countries will surely look to.
The Princess set aside time to discuss directly with representatives from civil society and local associations of commercial sex workers, people living with HIV and groups of men who have sex with men. They shared their experiences on how stigma and discrimination affects their daily life. The princess gave words of support and encouragement, recognizing the impact stigma is having on their lives, and urged that we fight discrimination together by making correct information about HIV available in order to educate those that discriminate in society as stigma and discrimination is usually a result of ignorance.
She recognized the difficulty they faced in sharing their experiences and living openly with HIV, and that people who take that step often risk loosing their employment and encountering negative reactions from family and friends.
All the participants agreed that working together as partners in the response was the best way to try to overcome the problems related to stigma and discrimination in Madagascar.
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