Faith at AIDS 2018

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Faith on the Fast Track

Faith on the Fast Track

David Barstow of EMPACT AIDS during pre-conference session at AIDS2014

12 May 2016

A recent epidemiological study by UNAIDS and The Lancet medical journal projected two vastly different futures for the AIDS epidemic.  In one future, HIV infection and death rates decline steadily over the next fifteen years, and AIDS is eliminated as a public health threat by 2030.  In the other future, HIV and AIDS come roaring back in the 2020s, with infection and death rates approaching the levels we all thought were behind us.  The first future can be achieved if we take full advantage of the remarkable medical advances of the past few decades.  The second future will be the result of complacency and the lack of global will to make the right commitments and to take the right actions.  The difference between these two futures can be seen in the numbers – if we fail to commit and fail to act, 28 million people will needlessly be infected by HIV, and 21 million people will needlessly die.

The next five years are critical.  What the world does between now and 2020 will largely determine which future becomes reality.  UNAIDS has formulated a Fast Track strategy to ensure that we achieve the first future, that AIDS is eliminated as a public health threat by 2030.  The Fast Track strategy includes specific targets for achievement by 2020, usually referred to as the “90-90-90” targets:

  • 90% of people living with HIV will know their status
  • 90% of those will be on treatment
  • 90% of those will have suppressed viral load

If we can reach those targets in 2020, then we will be well on the way to eliminating AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

Although the targets for 2020 are formulated in medical terms, the reality is that much of the work that must be done involves the non-medical, social aspects of the AIDS epidemic:  the barriers presented by stigma and discrimination, the importance of human rights in addressing the epidemic, the need to focus on key populations at increased risk of infection.  The need for social action is why faith-based initiatives are so important – the commitments and actions by people of faith, as well as their leaders, communities, and organizations, are vital to achieving the Fast Track targets.

Recognizing the importance of faith initiatives, the Global Organizing Committee for the Interfaith Pre-Conference chose “Faith on the Fast Track” as its theme. Three sub-themes have been identified, focusing on areas where faith-based initiatives are especially important:

  • Reducing stigma and discrimination, including stigma within local faith communities, and stigma toward marginalized populations
  • Increasing access, including community-based HIV services, and services for infants, children, and adolescents
  • Defending human rights, including dealing with discriminatory laws and policies

Workshops at the pre-conference will focus on ways that faith initiatives in these three areas can contribute to reaching the Fast Track targets, including setting five-year targets, identifying tools and methods, and discussing particular challenges faced by faith initiatives.

The pre-conference will be held at La Vita Conference Centre in Durban, on July 16-17.  We look forward to a productive time and establishing a strong five-year agenda for faith initiatives in support of the UNAIDS Fast Track strategy.

By David Barstow, founder of EMPACT Africa and member of the Global Organizing Committee