We are proud to host one of the largest Red Cross networks in Europe and Central Asia - and, with over 70 participants this is the largest ERNA meeting so far. Over 30 countries are represented here - showing, in many ways, both the scope and the truly international aspect of HIV/AIDS epidemic. Some very high level people have also chosen to come - this perhaps underlines the importance that this issue has in many countries.

We hope that you will feel at home here in Krakow, one of our most beautiful cities.

Although I am a doctor, I am not a specialist on HIV/AIDS. But even I am aware of the current situation with the epidemic. And so I can see that this growth in size in ERNA, is necessary to deal with the crisis before us: there has been a steady rise in HIV infections in Western Europe, and currently Central-Eastern Europe and Central Asia are the region of the fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in the world.

The issue of AIDS is not new for the Polish RC. In the early 1990's the Polish RC was one of the first organisations to address the problem in Poland. We have worked hard in the areas of prevention and stigma. In 2002, the PRC joined the IFRC 'The Truth About AIDS' campaign and has regularly organised candlelight marches and ran information campaigns. We prepared a special information CD on the topic and most recently, with the help of the IFRC, have put together a peer education program for youth about HIV/AIDS called 'Just Between You and Me.'

It bears mention that most of this work has been by youth for youth - we have long since realised the importance of reaching and involving the younger generation.

This is true now more than ever before: In this region the situation is very clear - over 80% of new infections are among youth below 30 years of age. Now more than ever AIDS is a youth issue. ERNA has long advocated the presence of youth delegates - and we have really tried to stress the importance of youth. We are very happy that there is so many young participants this year.

Stigma and discrimination, however, is not the only problem. It is clear that in our region the highest number of infections is due to drag use. There must be programs for these people. It is also crucial that more co-operation exist in the area of HIV/AIDS work - not only among National Societies but also among the relevant organisations in each country as well as, and perhaps most importantly, between those working with HIV/AIDS persons and those actually living with the infection. We hope that is one of the main themes of this meeting - to build lasting and functioning partnERNAships - co-operation between our National Societies and within actual countries with local groups so that we can work together to overcome the challenge of HIV/AIDS.

So after your days here, We hope that you will go home with real PartnERNAships. All the best to you.

Andrzej Trybusz
Polish Red Cross