To help the world’s children become HIV-free, faith groups must help bring UN goals to life through strong advocacy, rapid action and unprecedented collaboration, say experts. Children must be helped onto a “Super Fast Track” to end AIDS or they will die at what Dr Stuart Kean describes as a “shocking” rate.
The 2016 International AIDS Conference, which concluded July 22, had its normal dose of science speak, with seminars and workshops ranging from new vaccine trials to the testing of a vaginal ring that appears to dramatically lower the risk of HIV infection in women. Yet from the very first day, it was clear that science is only part of the solution, because AIDS is more than a simple virus.
Thirty years into HIV response, will the energy and drive first experienced from the faith-based sector be replaced by fatigue and burnout?
A faith-based response to the needs of people living with HIV and AIDS must be inclusive and just, said people in discussion at the Global Village at AIDS2016. “As people of faith, we need to respond to the needs of society and that response should never be governed by conditions that exclude,” said Manoj Kurian, coordinator of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance. “Our treatment of people should always be with great compassion.”
Prince Harry, Elton John, Charlize Theron, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Bill Gates – royalty, celebrities, religious leaders and philanthropists joined scientists, politicians, health workers, and activists – all of whom include people of faith – at the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban. At a time when “AIDS fatigue” deepens, affecting funding, awareness and capacity to respond, the stars help to put a media spotlight on the many challenges and injustices that remain.
The Faith Networking Zone at the 21st International AIDS Conference has become a hub for dialogue between young women and religious leaders talking together about sex, sexuality and HIV. “We ask you to address us on sexuality without condemnation or judgement. Please do not use scripture to judge us or moralise everything,” stated one young participant.
Thirty-five years into the response to HIV and AIDS, it remains a disease that not only thrives on, but exploits the lines of exclusion and inequality in society. In the Philippines, where there has been an alarming increase in people testing positive for HIV, the country’s National Council of Churches recognized that more than words were needed. While dialogue and debate were important, they needed to translate into action, given the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor in Filipino society, and a faith-based and societal milieu still dominated by a sex-negative theology.
Michel Sidibe has some reasons to be happy when it comes to HIV and AIDS response: the reduction in AIDS-related deaths, the huge numerical increase in the number of people on anti-retroviral therapy (ART), and the ever-increasing number of babies born HIV free. Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, spoke at the opening of AIDS2016. Despite all the strides made, Sidibe expressed a deep anxiety and fear.
“Prophet, people and a plan.” That’s what faith-based organizations (FBOs) need to ensure nobody living with HIV is left behind, said Jesse Milan, past board chair of the Black AIDS Institute. He was speaking as part of a panel group at the Faith on the Fast Track AIDS2016 Pre-Conference.
In a final session at the faith-based pre-conference on HIV and AIDS, faith communities re-committed themselves to ending HIV and AIDS, and to keeping up the pressure in the face of “AIDS fatigue.” In a stirring speech, Rev. Phumzile Mabizela, executive director of INERELA+ said, “We must continue in the fast lane. We cannot return to the slow lane or go slow in the fast lane.”
We are failing our children with HIV care was the stark message of a joint session of the interfaith and Catholic pre-conferences being held in Durban, South Africa in advance of AIDS 2016. Targets for childcare have been missed, medication is not suitable and we still need earlier infant diagnosis with half of infants infected dying within 24 months.
More than 150 people attending the interfaith pre-conference, which opened on 16 July in Durban, heard urgent challenges to reduce stigma and discrimination; increase access to HIV services; and defend human rights as key elements of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
The United Nations has recognized that among the most important key players in ending AIDS by 2030 are faith based organizations (FBOs). One of the workshops at the ongoing Faith on the Fast Track pre-AIDs 2016 conference discussed at length ways of breaking the silence in order to end AIDS by 2030.
Hashtag Downwithblessers reigned supreme at an AIDS2016 pre-conference workshop entitled: Sugar daddy relationship and HIV Transmission: Religion as a resource for social change.
The full programme is now available for the interfaith pre-conference, “Faith on the Fast Track: Reducing Stigma and Discrimination, Increasing Access, and Defending Human Rights – NOW!”.
Submit a pre-conference workshop proposal that is focused on developing action plans for faith-based initiatives during the next five years.
Final round of applications open for the Chaplains Programme.
The GOC was appointed by the WCC-EAA International Reference Group in January 2016. The GOC plans the Interfaith Pre-Conference and sets the overall direction, priorities, policies and related planning for faith-based activities coordinated and supported by the WCC-EAA at AIDS 2016.
The LHC was formed in 2015 and have helped enormously in the initial planning for AIDS 2016. WCC-EAA is very thankful for the members’ experienced input and service.
The Interfaith Chaplains Programme and Interfaith Prayer Room will once again be offered at the 21st International AIDS Conference. Ten religious leaders from around the world will be selected to participate in the chaplains programme. Applications are now being accepted up to 31 January 2016. If you are interested, or would like more information, please download the application form (MS Word).
As researchers, activists and policy makers prepare to leave Melbourne at the conclusion of the 20th International AIDS Conference, they possess a new confidence that advances in treatment can mean an eventual end to the AIDS epidemic. Yet new testing mechanisms, antiretroviral medications, and government funding strategies alone won’t be enough to transform HIV infection from a global public health emergency to a manageable chronic disease. Religious leaders who came to Melbourne warn that making real the refrain of “nobody left behind” will also mean recognizing that faith-based groups must continue to play a major role in the comprehensive struggle against the virus.