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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.
In HIV, AIDS and faith in words and images, Callie Long writes about her own professional and personal journey covering the faith response to HIV with photos from Paul Jeffrey – whose strong images from AIDS 2016 in Durban continue to demonstrate the passion, compassion and action that is still critical to end the AIDS epidemic.
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.