Faith at AIDS 2018

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“We just need to work together” - Children, Adolescents and HIV

“We just need to work together” - Children, Adolescents and HIV

Ambassador Deborah Birx speaks on the panel on Children, Adolescents and HIV. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

22 July 2018

Faith-based leadership has been vital in pushing ambitious treatment targets for children living with HIV, but strong, collaborative action needs to be maintained.

This was the call as the interfaith event “Faith Building Bridges”, convened by the World Council of Churches – Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA), addressed issues around children, adolescents and HIV on 22 July.

US global AIDS coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx commended faith-based organizations for the leadership and engagement in the HIV response, particularly on children and access to treatment and highlighted the unique pressure they can place on even private sector actors.

“Pharmaceutical companies making agreements in the Vatican have a very different feel than when they are sitting with us,” she observed.

Speakers focused on two unique opportunities of faith-based organizations – the ability of religious leaders to convey trusted and influential messages to communities and the provision of health services by - and even in – faith communities.

Deborah Von Zinkernagel, director of the Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free initiative highlighted the importance of messages and modeling.

“Start talking about these in the pulpit – living with HIV, getting tested, getting treatment,” said Zinkernagel. This can create a dialogue that leads to change , which she said was particularly important in west and central Africa. Religious leaders publicly taking an HIV test (respecting the confidentiality of results) is also a powerful way to break down stigma.

The Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV, Kenya Chapter (KINERELA+) presented sermon guides for Christian and Islamic leaders intended exactly to promote such support and advocacy. Jane Ng’an’ga, KINERELA+ coordinator stated, “Your faith community is as informed as your faith leader is.” Conversely, “If the faith leader is not informed, there will be a lot of inaction and misaction,” she said.

Moderating the session, Msgr Robert J. Vitillo emphasized the partnerships among faith groups and with government and multilateral organizations that made the “Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free” initiative possible and the ongoing monitoring undertaken to keep all partners accountable — a commitment and partnership that is proving vital.

Game-changers in HIV testing and treatment for children

Chip Lyons, president and CEO of the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric HIV Foundation described the difference that point of care diagnostic machines are making in the treatment of children, as they have reduced the time between testing and results from an average of 50 days to 90 minutes. “The difference is dramatic not just in the care for the mother and the child, but in their confidence in the system,” he said.

According to Lyons, some 17 percent of the machines so far have been sited in faith-based health services. But the challenge is to make this sustainable. “We have to be clear and loud about the importance of testing. It’s on all of us,“ noted Lyons.

Gottfried Otto Hirnschall, director of the HIV/AIDS Department and the Global Hepatitis Programme, World Health Organization, acknowledged that there has also been progress on developing palatable formulations for children, but that there is still a need to push further.

Faith-based groups have incredible power to share messages and “to convince”, Hirnschall noted, and called for faith groups to be even more active in giving children information and support and addressing the stigma that still exists.

Lyons concluded, “You don’t need me to tell you what to do. We just need to work together.“

Building bridges between the HIV and TB responses (press release of 22 July 2018)

“The materials are us” - Faith building bridges in the HIV response (press release of 21 July 2018)

Access free high-resolution photos for download

Interfaith event: Faith Building Bridges

Facebook event: Faith at AIDS 2018

Overview of Interfaith activities at AIDS 2018 (pdf)

High Level Schedule Faith Building Bridges & Joint HIV Prevention and Testing Zones (pdf)

Global Village - Faith Building Bridges Networking Zone, Day by Day (pdf)