Faith Communities and HIV in the News

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Faith News 2017

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Ugandan Mothers’ Union Leader Helps Overcome HIV. 31/10/2017

Published by OIKOUMENE

A lay Anglican woman in Uganda is helping to build an HIV competent community and church, in a country where the epidemic is still a big challenge.

Josephine Kasaato is president of the Mothers’ Union in the Namirembe Diocese in the capital of Uganda, Kampala. She is using her position to create awareness and educate the community about HIV and AIDS.

Her voice is often heard across the diocese’s 65 parishes where she censures stigma, discrimination and denial, key challenges in the struggle against the virus.

A mother of four, Kasaato has been outspoken against sexual and gender-based violence and HIV, and has also been identifying critical areas, such as increased rape cases and violence against girls, and moves to create awareness among church and community leaders.

“We are targeting zero by 2020. I believe we shall have success stories to tell by then,” says the professional teacher, designer and evangelist.

Five years ago, she joined the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA) Reference Group as the eastern Africa representative.

Starting in Maganjo, a small parish in the diocese, the “fire” has spread across five dioceses.

“The five bishops support our work, including the archbishop,” Kasaato says.

The first year’s work revolved around sensitising the people, church leaders and the community, with the union developing visit teams, carrying out home visits and creating home cells.

“The aim was to see how we could do more and fight HIV and AIDS better,” she says.

The second year focused on eliminating mother-to-child transmission, with the union joining with the first lady, Janet Museveni who was implementing a similar project.

The group targeted eliminating stigma, shame, discrimination, denial, inaction and mis-action, intertwined “evils” which experts say are crucial in understanding and overcoming the epidemic.

Alongside this, the union promoted SAVE (Safer Practices, Access to medicines, Voluntary Counselling and Testing, and Empowerment), an approach positive touted as a replacement for ABC (Abstain, Be faithful and use a Condom).

This year, the union has been working on creating a safe space for people to be screened fully on HIV, with focus on youth. Since February, each deaconry has been running a contextual Bible study on this area.

“We have been visiting the groups and doing the Bible study with them,” says the leader, whose activities end each year with drama and a music competition.

Kasaato says she is inspired by the people – like Canon Gideon Byamugisha and Rev. Rahab Wanjiru Kariuki – who are living a positive life and working to end HIV, despite their positive status.

“They (people living positively) have stood and said ‘no discrimination; we have to carry on the struggle’. That inspires me a lot,” she says.

For her, the people are a shining light that helps to increase HIV disclosure and encourage the continued uptake of anti-retroviral treatment.

“If more people who are living a positive life can take a leading role, I think that can take us to another horizon,” she adds.

Their work is also often misinterpreted, with the people wrongly believing westerners have given them extensive funds to carry out the campaigns.

But sometimes it gets dry, she explains, such that funds to facilitate the very basic tasks of visiting vulnerable people – like grandmothers taking care of HIV orphans – are unavailable.

“I can’t visit with the Bible only. I need to carry some sugar or some clothing. Some areas are also remote,” says Kasaato.

Recently, she has taken on the fight against misleading faith healing.

“The truth is people are being paid to say the Holy Spirit has healed them. Unfortunately, they eventually die,” she says. “We are speaking to Ugandans and telling them not to believe these lies. I encourage them to take anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs). I say to them Jesus is the healer through ARVs.”

She has also reached out at the Interreligious Council of Uganda over the issue.

“We told them (healing pastors) after you pray, you prove by testing,” she says.

Meanwhile, the leader is concerned that the church is meeting only 30 percent of the work and leaving the congregation to find out the remaining 70 percent on their own.

“I think the church should rise up and use what it has. It has a platform and the pulpit every Sunday,” says Kasaato, explaining that the pastors and the clergy should take the lead because they have authority.

Still, she challenges church leaders and pastors to know the status of their congregations to ascertain sustainability in their lives.

“Will they be giving the offertory and the tithes ten years to come? Will they have the money or will they be spending it on drugs only or will they still be alive?” she challenges the leaders.

For her, the global campaign against HIV and AIDS is on course, but the world has to consider how it is reaching the zero target, and whether the eyes are on the solutions or the problems.

 

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“God Has Brought Ways of Defeating HIV”. 31/10/2017

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Rev. Rahab Wanjiru Kariuki, an Anglican priest living with HIV in Kenya, strongly believes there’s a reason for an uptick in HIV infections among young people: “It is because we have kept silent.”

Kariuki refuses to be silent and refuses to remain passive. These are mantras not only for the way she lives but for the ways in which she ministers and cares for others.

She has seen that, even as worldwide rates of HIV are decreasing, in some communities, HIV infections are on the rise.

“There is an increase in death cases, and after you visit those people, you find in their houses, there are piles of (antiretroviral) drugs that have been left there,” says Kariuki. “This is because these people have been left alone, they are not socializing, they don’t have people to encourage them to take the drugs.”

For many years, Kariuki has been speaking out, setting an example, and urging others to speak out, too.  She has served as part of two different President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) consultations, one in Kenya in 2016, the other in Uganda in 2017.  The consultations were planned and facilitated by the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA) programme and financially sponsored through the PEPFAR-UNAIDS Faith Initiative. PEPFAR is a United States government initiative to address the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.

As a two-year PEPFAR-UNAIDS Faith Initiative enters its second phase, Kariuki plans to continue to be a key voice for the WCC-EHAIA as it develops and supports a sustainable response to HIV with the aim of ending HIV and AIDS by 2030.

Stamping out stigma

Kariuki has observed that, the higher the stigma surrounding HIV in a community, the higher the risk of new HIV infections.

Yet stigma has never ended, she says. “We’ve always had that problem of stigma and now it’s gaining its roots again,” she said. “When some religious leaders are asked questions from young people about the issue of HIV, they don’t have the answers. It’s like the information has been forgotten.”

Kariuki believes that religious leaders need to be reminded and encouraged to take responsibility for keeping good health in their society. “That is the will of God,” she says. “If all our efforts are put into it, there is nothing we can’t change.”

She and other faith leaders have been involved in training and workshops, organized by the WCC-EHAIA with local partners, that focus on the “SAVE” methodology, which stands for Safer practices, Access and availability of medication, Voluntary counseling and testing, and Empowering communities with skills. She also works through the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS, and participated in the WCC campaign “Leading By Example: Religious leaders and HIV Testing.”

Some people find it difficult to go get tested, she says. “Testing and counseling -  there are some people who don’t go to the facilities and be tested because of stigma. So we need to look for ways and means where we can encourage religious leaders to be trained to do the practice of counseling and testing.”

Kariuki believes HIV can be defeated. In fact, she says, “there are great signs of hope. God has brought us ways of defeating HIV.”

She looks to the next generation with a great deal of optimism. “HIV is defeated in this way: people who are HIV positive, both of them can get children who are HIV negative. There is a generation coming that is HIV negative. HIV is preventable. But a lot of efforts need to be made so that we can prevent it.”

HIV is not curable but it is manageable, she adds. “People who are HIV positive like myself can live healthy lives if they adhere to medication. I have been HIV positive for over 20 years and I have never been hospitalized. I have been able to walk this life, holistic healing from God through science keeps me whole,” she says. “There is a great hope that HIV can be defeated and can be eliminated. Yes, it’s possible to eliminate HIV from the world.”

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“Good healthcare a right, not a privilege,” says WCC-EAA. 11/10/2017

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Good healthcare a right, not a privilege,” says WCC-EAA

Nurses distribute HIV medication at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Lesotho. © Albin Hillert/WCC

The World Council of Churches - Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) endorses a newly expanded collaboration on HIV between the Medicine Patent Pool (MPP) and Gilead. On 4 October, the MPP announced a licence with Gilead Sciences for bictegravir (BIC), a new integrase inhibitor part of a once-daily, single-tablet HIV regimen currently filed for regulatory approval at the United States Food and Drug Administration and the European Union.

The agreement will allow access to generic formulations containing BIC, TAF, TDF, cobicistat and elvitegravir to be manufactured in India, China and South Africa for use in 116 countries. The agreement includes four more countries, Belarus, Malaysia, Philippines and Ukraine, compared to previous Gilead licences.

“Currently, there are over 37 million people living with HIV and approximately only half of them have access to first line antiretroviral (ARV) treatment,” explains David Deakin from the WCC-EAA Access to Treatment Working Group. “There is still a long way to go with a target set to 33 million being on treatment by 2030, so we welcome this new licence for bictegravir.”

“While applauding this expanded agreement, to also include more countries, we remain concerned about the overpricing of other drugs produced by Gilead,” adds Stuart Kean from the WCC-EAA.

“Although Gilead was the first company to license its HIV medicines to the MPP, so far it has only issued hand-picked voluntary licenses for its high-priced Hepatitis C medicines”, says Astrid Berner-Rodoreda, HIV policy advisor for the German Protestant development agency Bread for the World. “Now that the MPP has a mandate for Hepatitis and TB as well, we call on Gilead to license its Hepatitis C medicines to the MPP alongside its HIV medicines.”

“In addition to the huge gap in access in low and middle income countries for sofosbuvir,” Berner-Rodoreda continues, “we are also concerned about rationing in high income countries, due to its unacceptably high price. Gilead has long recouped costs for its investment in sofosbuvir and made enormous profits on this medicine. Good healthcare is a right for all. We call on Gilead to follow suit with its Hepatitis C medicines and ask that access to HCV medicines becomes affordable worldwide.”

Bictegravir (BIC)

  • Bictegravir (BIC) is an integrase inhibitor that is being investigated as part of a single tablet regimen of BIC/TAF/FTC with a dose of 50 mg once daily in adults for first-line treatment
  • BIC is in the same class as dolutegravir (DTG), elvitegravir (EVG), and raltegravir (RAL)
  • When combined with TAF/FTC in phase III, BIC was safe and well tolerated and showed high virologic response rates comparable with those of dolutegravir in naïve patients, showing no treatment-emergent resistance through week 48.
  • BIC/TAF/FTC is being studied in adolescents and children
  • Gilead submitted a New Drug Application (NDA) on BIC/FTC/TAF to the FDA in June 2017
  • In August 2017, the FDA granted priority review for bictegravir, which would enable faster approval (following Gilead’s use of a priority review voucher)

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, an ecumenical initiative of the World Council of Churches, is a global network of churches and related organizations committed to campaigning together on common concerns for justice and human dignity. Current campaign issues are HIV and AIDS, food security and sustainable agriculture.

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Building Momentum – as WCC-EHAIA Addresses ”Faith-Healing Only” Practices in Francophone Africa. 28/9/2017

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Gathered in Kigali, Rwanda on 25-29 September, religious leaders from a variety of faith communities in French-speaking Africa have explored the issue of ”faith-healing only” practices, where some faith communities encourage people living with HIV to stop taking their anti-retroviral medication, claiming they can be healed by faith alone – a rationale devastating for work to overcome HIV and AIDS.

Convened by the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA) and UNAIDS for a ”Regional Consultation on HIV Treatment Adherence and Faith Healing in Africa”, the focus has been on developing strategies for securing that faith communities can offer healing while still advocating for HIV treatment adherence.

Building momentum

The Kigali consultation takes place as part of the two-year PEPFAR-UNAIDS Faith Initiative, and follows a consultation on the same topic held in Kampala, Uganda, on 4-8 September.

Sara Test, deputy coordinator at the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), explains, ”PEPFAR and UNAIDS support faith-based organizations and work with them to make sure that the response to HIV is sustainable. We support their work in the communities, to make sure they are able to give factual information, as we know that in the context of HIV, treatment is prevention.”

Julienne Munyaneza, consultant with the PEPFAR-UNAIDS Faith Initiative, reflects, “Africa is a big continent and it goes without saying that sub-regions have different historical backgrounds. The Kampala consultation was important and came up with recommendations appropriate for Anglophone countries, but these may not be duplicable in Francophone Africa. Hence the importance of this consultation in Kigali, to address the same topic but in context.”

“We need effective programmes that will address the needs regarding faith-healing that emerge from this consultation,” says Hendrew Lusey, WCC-EHAIA regional coordinator for Central Africa, ”such as strategies that will empower women, girls, men and boys. This consultation has built bridges between religious leaders, health professionals and other stakeholders working in the field of HIV.”

Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge, WCC-EHAIA coordinator, continues, "both the consultations in Kampala and here in Kigali have demonstrated an urgent need to listen and learn from people living with HIV, including young people born HIV-positive, regarding their experiences of self- and social stigma, the fear of stigma and discrimination in faith communities, and the in-depth meaning of faith healing in the absence of a cure for HIV.”

“Testimonies in both consultations show that people living with HIV experience greater health benefits when they have received faith healing as well as anti-retroviral treatment,” adds Rev. Pauline Wanjiru Njiru, eastern Africa regional coordinator for the WCC-EHAIA. ”This has opened our eyes to new avenues on something that has been hidden for so long. It is an opportunity created for people living with HIV to disclose their HIV status and still feel that they are loved and welcome in their community.”

Strategic steps in moving forward

“I am happy to see that the Kigali consultation has brought some high-calibre participants from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda,” says Julienne Munyaneza. “But at the same time, one consultation is like a drop in the ocean. This is a big issue and should be taken up at country or even community level.”

“In moving forward, we need to support theological study and bible training schools so that future pastors enter into service equipped to address the problem of “faith-healing only”, Munyaneza concludes. “We know that stigma and discrimination remain a core problem in responding to HIV and it needs to be addressed in all our activities. And we need to do more in involving "revival churches" into our dialogue and reflection, as these tend to be the main promoters of “faith-healing only”.

“Fundamentally”, concludes Bishop Godson Lawson from Togo, chairperson of the WCC-EHAIA International Reference Group, “what we believe is that it is God who has given the human being its intelligence, and that it is this human intelligence that has brought forward anti-retroviral medication. In order to heal, a person living with HIV must both pray and take their medication. Being healed does not necessarily mean that the virus is no longer present in your body, but it gives you the freedom to make choices about what you want to do in life.” 

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Shifting Gears - WCC-EAA on Strategy for Faith on the Fast Track HIV Campaign. 28/9/2017

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"Over a number of years, the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) has advocated for governments, intergovernmental organizations, religious leaders, faith organizations and individuals to fulfil their commitments to contribute to the vision of ‘getting to zero’ – zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths,” explains Francesca Merico, HIV campaign coordinator of the WCC-EAA.

Gathered in Geneva, Switzerland on 26-28 September, the WCC-EAA HIV Strategy Group has now explored new strategies for advancing work towards overcoming HIV as a global health threat.

Among key issues on the table were looking at the second phase of the PEPFAR-UNAIDS Faith Initiative, exploring strategic steps towards faith communities’ presence at the 2018 International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam, and most essentially, strategic moves to step up the pace in ending AIDS as a public health threat. To do this, the WCC-EAA’s Live the Promise campaign is being re-conceptualized as Faith on the Fast Track, shaped around the UNAIDS Strategy to Ending AIDS by 2030.

"Through the Live the Promise campaign, the WCC-EAA accompanied faith communities around the world in taking considerable steps promoting HIV testing and access to treatment to all, mobilizing faith communities against stigma and discrimination and in promoting a human rights response to HIV,” Merico says.

"Yet the latest UNAIDS report shows that we are likely to fail in reaching the most urgent global targets in our response to HIV, particularly for children, adolescents, young women and girls and marginalized groups. More than ever, the world needs to involve all sectors of society to transform the response to HIV and AIDS."

Time to shift gears

“As people of faith we have a compelling vision of a world without injustice. We simply have no choice but to address the social drivers. With the Faith on the Fast Track HIV Campaign, we want to reenergize ourselves, the faith and the international community to maintain HIV as a global focus; to promote universal access to prevention, testing, treatment, care and support; to contribute to the elimination of stigma and discrimination; and the promotion of human rights,” says Lyn Van Rooyen, executive director of the Christian AIDS Bureau in Southern Africa.

“It is important to keep up the pace now, as we know the next few years are pivotal in responding to the HIV epidemic,” says Karen Sichinga, executive director of the Churches Health Association of Zambia. “We are convinced that the WCC-EAA can continue to play a key role on this journey.”

“This week we have been looking forward to renew our efforts, to think strategically about the role of the WCC-EAA in the global HIV response. At a time when funding is increasingly a challenge, what gives us hope as people of faith, is to keep building momentum among faith communities to remind everyone that HIV is not over yet,” adds Jean Claude Mwayabo Kazadi, senior technical adviser for HIV Care and Treatment at Catholic Relief Services.

“Through renewed efforts, as we continue to advocate for broader partnerships and stronger engagement of faith communities in responding to HIV, we hope to continue the momentum that has been achieved so far, and ensure that HIV and AIDS does not drop off the agenda, so that no one is left behind,” concludes Karen Plater from the Presbyterian Church in Canada, chair of the WCC-EAA HIV Strategy Group.

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“It will Take Faith to Get Down to Business, to Overcome HIV and AIDS”. 13/9/2017

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As the United Nations General Assembly is getting into gear for the 72nd time in New York, USA, faith communities are mobilizing around issues surrounding HIV and AIDS, working to find common ground, and a shared, strong voice in working to overcoming the epidemic.

“Today we challenge ourselves,” said World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, as leaders from a variety of faiths and confessions gathered at the Interchurch Center Chapel in New York on 12 September for an interfaith prayer service on the theme “Leading by Example: Faith and HIV Testing”. “We must show that HIV is not something that has gone away, even if we live in a context where we do not often hear about it.”

“As religious leaders, we are all called to lead by our examples, to fight stigma and discrimination, and to help promote access to testing and treatment,” Tveit added.

During the service, counselling and confidential HIV testing were offered onsite, as religious leaders testified to the importance of testing and treatment, and of being able to speak out publicly against stigma and discrimination.

Rev. Dr T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki, president of the Buddhist Council of New York, spoke to the importance of seeing HIV as something that runs through all communities, including communities of faith. “When we have a health issue like this, which is present across so many communities, we should certainly come together,” Nakagaki said. “One particular faith community can do one thing, but when we come together with our diverse views and we start speaking together, then we become much more powerful.”

“It will take faith communities to get down to the real business of fixing this problem,” said New York Imam Abdul Azeez. “As people of faith, we know that each one of us can impact the life of someone, to effect a positive change.”

Maura Drewry, who attended the event as one of a group of young adult volunteers from the Presbyterian Church in the USA, concluded, reflecting, “I really think that leading by example is something that as a person of faith I want to try to do. I think it’s often misconstrued that the church is putting a stigma on things, such as HIV and AIDS. Coming together, just acknowledging that’s not always the case, is just a wonderful thing to do.”

Following the 12 September event at the Interchurch Center Chapel, the World Council of Churches – Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance together with UNAIDS, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the United Nations Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development are organizing an interfaith prayer breakfast in New York on 13 September, on the theme of “Fostering Partnerships for Fast Tracking Access to Testing and Treatment to infants, children and adolescents”.

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Faith On The Fast-Track - For Children Living With HIV. 13/9/2017

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Faith-based organizations are at the heart of a special mission: issuing a call to actionto ensure that infants, children and adolescents around the world have access to HIV prevention, testing and treatment.

Gathering in New York on 13 September for an interfaith prayer breakfast hosted by the World Council of Churches–Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) in collaboration with UNAIDS, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the United Nations Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development on the sidelines of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, faith leaders from a multitude of religions came together to support a coordinated faith-based effort in responding to HIV.

“The role of faith-based organizations in the communities is crucial to the HIV response,” said World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit in welcoming the participants. “Their preaching, teaching and caring changes people.”

“Children should be at the centre of our attention and work,” Tveit continued. “They are the most vulnerable, and at the same time the least responsible for this situation. So let’s do this together – we can. May God give us the courage.”

Faith-based organizations have played a critical role in responding to HIV since the start of the epidemic more than 35 years ago. A unique position of trust at the heart of communities has allowed faith-based organizations to provide services and support that extend beyond the reach of many public-sector health systems.

“When we look at the data we have, we can now see precisely who is being left behind,” said U.S. ambassador-at-large Deborah L. Birx, M.D., coordinator of the United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS and U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy. ”There is still stigma and discrimination, and still that barrier where parents do not want to come forward to risk being identified as HIV positive. This is where we need the churches, to ensure that every pregnant woman feels the love of God, and understands that we are there to serve and ensure that their infant is tested in time.”

”‪Our partnership is key,” continued Dr Luiz Loures, deputy executive director of UNAIDS and assistant secretary general of the United Nations. ”Faith-based organizations are not just a ‪part of the response but at the core of it. I am clear now that much ‪more is needed - we need to step up our action to achieve the paediatric targets.”

In 2016 faith-based organizations have held a series of consultations on how to accelerate action at the Vatican in Rome, and in June 2017, the WCC-EAA launched a global call to action entitled “Act now for children and adolescents living with HIV”, to mobilize faith communities around the target of providing 1.6 million children and 1.2 million adolescents living with HIV with antiretroviral therapy by 2018, and the ultimate goal of ending AIDS in children by 2020.

There are good reasons for the call to action. UNAIDS’ latest report shows that in 2016 there were 2.1 million children ages 0-14 living with HIV, of which less than half had access to treatment, and 2.1 million adolescents ages 10-19 were living with HIV, a 30% increase from 2005.

Behind low coverage lies low detection rates, where in 2016 only 43% of HIV-exposed infants received early infant diagnostic services within the first two months of life, as recommended. And globally, HIV remains the seventh leading cause of death among children aged 10–14 years in 2015, and the ninth leading cause of death among adolescents overall, despite the availability of effective treatment.

Concerted global efforts are being made to address these challenges. In 2016, United Nations Member States committed to put special emphasis on providing 1.6 million children with access to antiretroviral therapy by 2018 and ensuring that children, adolescents and adults living with HIV know their status and are immediately offered and sustained on affordable and accessible quality treatment.

These ambitious targets, called the super-fast track for children, have been incorporated into a framework for action led by UNAIDS, PEPFAR and partners: Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free, which seeks to put the world firmly on a path to ending AIDS among children.

The engagement of the faith community is paramount to achieving these goals and at the 13 September event, a variety of calls to action and declarations were formulated, calling for strong follow-up actions, recommendations and commitments to ensure a Fast-Track faith-based response to make HIV testing and treatment available for children and adolescents by 2020.

“We come here today not to criticise or blame but to offer help and encouragement as well as to share the urgency and moral imperative of this issue,” concluded keynote speaker Sister Carol Keehan, president & CEO of the Catholic Health Association. “We are literally talking about survival. The survival of children which depends on effective action by the nations of the world. We are each called to look to our faith as the foundation for our response to HIV.”

 

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Four Voices, One Concern – Addressing “Faith-Healing Only” in Context of HIV. 7/9/2017

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“I believe we need an advocacy strategy to listen, share experiences, and address the issues we face in working for treatment adherence,” said Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge, World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA) coordinator as she addressed a consultation on HIV Treatment Adherence and Faith Healing in Africa on 5 September.

Two days later, religious leaders and governmental organization representatives from across Africa and beyond met in Kampala, Uganda, to explore what it means to be healed and to offer healing, in the context of a disease that has no cure.

At the heart of the issues addressed at the consultation lies the phenomenon of “faith-healing only”, where some faith communities have begun encouraging people living with HIV to stop taking their anti-retroviral drugs, claiming that they can be healed by faith alone – a practice that can have devastating consequences for the work towards overcoming HIV and AIDS.

So how can the issue of “faith-healing only” be understood and addressed, to ensure that people living with HIV adhere to treatment? How can bridges be built to those among “faith-healing only” practitioners who are open to dialogue? And what does it mean to believe, to be healed, in a context where there is no cure?

Medicine and faith healing: science, spirituality or both?

“I believe, to overcome HIV,” said Rev. Canon Prof. Gideon B. Byamugisha from the Anglican Church, Province of Uganda, “we need to overcome the dichotomy between science and spirituality. The God of life is also the God of science. Everything that gives life, that encourages life – and this includes not only the air we breathe and the water we drink, but also the wonders of science, such as medicine and anti-retroviral treatment – we should view as a gift from God.”

Reflecting on the issue of “faith-healing only prophets”, Gideon added, “We should not be afraid that there are those who call themselves prophets. We are all in a prophetic movement. People who are saying human rights and human dignity must be affirmed, that is a prophetic movement. So let us not be intimidated, but pray for the wonders of science too.”

Aisha Usman, Northwest Zone coordinator for the Nigeria chapter of the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS, continues, “we need to take a common stand. It happened to me long ago, when I was very sick, I was told I shouldn’t take my drugs, that I should go for deliverance instead. Refusing, I was locked up in a room for two years, until I was discovered by the Catholic Church.”

“What the Catholics did,” Usman said, “was they brought me out, took me to their church and let me stay there, they bought the drugs for me. I took the drugs for a year right there in their church, and I got well. Now that is what I call faith healing.”

From witness to strategy, finding common ground for action

 

The consultation in Kampala is one of two similar consultations on HIV treatment adherence and faith healing in Africa taking place this month, the second one convening in Kigali, Rwanda on 25-29 September. Among the expected long-term outcomes are a manual on capacity building for people living with HIV and faith leaders on treatment adherence and advocacy on positive use of faith in HIV response; and to inspire a counter-movement against ”faith-healing only”, led by faith communities in each country represented.

Charles Serwanja, programme manager of health and HIV/AIDS at the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, reflected on the importance of communities from a variety of faiths finding common ground on concerns of health and healing.

“From the Ugandan context, we know that until we as faith-based organizations can come together to agree on common positions, on common messages, common processes together, we will have fragmentations and interventions across the board, and the government becomes suspicious about what we are doing.”

“But we also know that there is a power in religious leaders coming together, generating common positions and speaking with one voice, on many issues, including HIV and AIDS. If we could mobilize those faith communities that are today not part of our inter-religious work to become part of the discussion, I believe many of the challenges we see today, in communities issuing controversial statements on faith healing and encouraging people to stop taking their anti-retroviral drugs, could stop.”

“Because with testing for HIV and for treatment, common messages are very key in mobilizing the communities to uptake services.”

“After two days listening to testimonies, presentations, and crying with people whose stories are so touching,” reflected Julienne Munyaneza, consultant with the PEPFAR-UNAIDS Faith Initiative, “I ask myself if we shouldn’t review our funding mechanisms for some of the issues we are addressing, or the way we are addressing them. Sometimes we seem to be stuck in old stories, in the way we have been doing things, and we miss the new developments around HIV and AIDS, especially in connection with the theme of ‘faith-healing only’.”

“But this theme is not new,” Munyaneza concluded. “It has come up in many of our discussions during the PEPFAR-UNAIDS Faith Initiative. Although we don’t really have the statistics, we know people in various countries have died because of ‘faith-healing only’. But what has become clear at this consultation, is that God uses also medication to heal people, and that there are many different definitions of what it means to be healed. I believe it is time to take this theme and the concerns we have raised and addressed here, to the next level.”

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“Facing The Storm Of HIV, We Can Move Together, Be Agents Of Change”. 6/9/2017

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Taking place on 4-8 September in Kampala, Uganda, a World Council of Churches (WCC) and UNAIDS regional consultation on HIV Treatment Adherence and Faith Healing in Africa has gathered to address issues of “faith-healing only” practices in the context of HIV and AIDS. At the core is the question of how religious leaders can partner with governmental organizations nationally and internationally, as well as with other parts of civil society to develop strategies to advocate for HIV treatment adherence, and to build bridges to those among faith-healing only practitioners who are open to dialogue.

In recent years, the phenomenon of “faith-healing only” has been highlighted as having an impact on treatment adherence in medication of HIV. At the heart of the issue lies an upsurge in faith communities preaching deliverance from all illnesses, including HIV, by faith-healing alone, thus inspiring people living with HIV to stop taking their anti-retroviral drugs in the hopes that they will be cured by faith-healing only.

The issue of “faith-healing only” surfaced at two national interfaith consultations in Kenya and Zambia which were organized by the WCC Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (EHAIA) in October 2016 as part of PEPFAR-UNAIDS Faith Initiative, and was highlighted as needing urgent attention by churches regarding HIV treatment adherence. Similarly a recent PEPFAR-UNAIDS Faith Initiative consultation on early diagnosis and treatment of HIV-positive children held in Abuja, Nigeria, found that negative impact of “faith healing only” on HIV treatment adherence is emerging as a critical reality.

Against this background, the Uganda consultation sets out to identify, describe, and strengthen the contributions of religious leaders in support of HIV treatment adherence, and to challenge harmful approaches to faith healing.

Agents of change

Rev. Pauline Wanjiru Njiru, eastern Africa regional coordinator for the WCC-EHAIA explains, “Gathering here in Kampala, I hope that religious leaders can come together, to say that we are in support of treatment, and that we encourage our people living with HIV to seek medicine, faithfully. There is a lot of progress that has been made in the context of HIV treatment, and we need to encourage people to make use also of the scientific gains, and not be deceived by faith-healing only messages.”

“My hope is that people at this consultation will engage honestly about the experiences of faith healing,” Wanjiru added, “and that those of us who propagate the faith-healing only can also see the light of day, realize that faith does stand in contradiction with science, and that faith-healing only messages can actually endanger people’s lives.”

Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of the Church of Uganda, opened the meeting through common prayer and reflection. “As we come together, we are sailing, facing different storms as we live in distinct parts of the world. But as churches, we must work together, to see the gospel clearly, and speak with one voice. We want to move together, and in facing the storm of HIV and AIDS, faith communities can be agents of change.”

Dr Karusa Kiragu, UNAIDS country director for Uganda, continued, “although there is a lot of work to be done, we can also see the progress that has been made. And we should recognize that faith-communities are contributing a part that is not often talked about in responding to HIV and AIDS.”

“The issue of HIV will stay with us for a long time,” Kiragu continued, “but to build momentum, particularly in the next five years, we need to continue to push together.”

“I believe we need an advocacy strategy,” said Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge, WCC-EHAIA coordinator in an introductory remark. “Our number one expectation is for the participants at this consultation to listen, to share their experiences, and to address the issues we face in working for treatment adherence. In doing this, on this continent, we cannot do without faith.”

The consultation in Uganda will be followed by a similar one in Kigali, Rwanda, on 25-29 September, which will take place in French. 

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Focusing on Inclusion: Dr. Luiz Loures, UNAIDS. 29/8/2017

Published by HUFFINGPOST

Canon Gideon Byamugisha, a founder of INERELA+, with his church congregation at the Bishop Samuel Chapel in Kampala, Uganda

Many unsung heroes in international organizations contend daily with problems whose global and human impact is all too often distilled into mind-numbing statistics. Dr. Luiz Loures, a Brazilian physician who works in the United Nations AIDS program (UNAIDS), is one of them. His career has focused on the HIV and AIDS pandemic, starting when he practiced medicine in Brazil in the epidemic’s early days, now as a UN civil servant in Geneva. Lessons he draws from his experience are well worth taking to heart.

In a conversation at the Ahimsa international forum in June in France, Dr. Loures spoke passionately about two topics: inclusion, and religious institutions as major partners.

The AIDS epidemic, he said, keeps him awake at night. Despite stunning scientific progress and courageous work by many policy leaders that has transformed this disease from a mystery and death sentence to a manageable illness, almost 37 million people today are living with HIV and AIDS and a million people die each year as a result.

Today, society’s most vulnerable citizens are at the center, as the epidemic has become more and more selective. The incidence of HIV is increasing among specific groups, starting with young women and populations that are vulnerable because of sexual orientation, or geography, or because they are migrating, or because they are prisoners.

We face, Dr. Loures emphasizes, a paradox: of hope and progress and darker realities that demand new ways of thinking and acting. Those realities involve an almost Medieval situation: for it is ancient fears, a reversion to gut behaviors, religious and other intolerance, gender bias, and economic thinking that keep poverty alive and stand in the path to ending the AIDS epidemic: “If we don’t break down these barriers, we are stuck”, he argues. Discrimination and inequities stymie progress.

The history of the HIV AIDS epidemic itself offers lessons and hope. Amidst the fear and unbearable suffering of the epidemic’s early years, a unique combination of leadership and policies pushed towards what Dr. Loures sees as the key to solutions: inclusion. Against habits and odds, people affected by HIV forced themselves to the center. They fought the tendency to ignore or shun them. From the very beginning, sometimes in very remote areas, before the cause of AIDS was identified and long before treatment was available, solidarity colored the response, in the support of families, communities, and the people themselves. While public health providers felt helpless and afraid, the sense of solidarity crossed boundaries and forced changes in the way the global community acted. What resulted is unique in public health history.

This response, this lived history, gives real meaning to the term inclusion. It shows how far it is connected to the intertwined complex that includes fear, stigma, discrimination, xenophobia, and racism. The inclusion lesson of the HIV and AIDS pandemic is that these forces as much as science must and can be addressed.

Dr. Loures’ second lesson is the complex and myriad ways in which religious institutions were part of this process. Thus they must be fully part of today’s response. That too poses complex, often paradoxical challenges. For in the epidemic’s early years (and still today) religious fears and exclusion fueled the spread of disease, even as faith communities’ closeness to the most vulnerable, deep-seated caring and compassion, and capacity to respond opened doors to deep pragmatic and spiritual change. The roles that religious institutions play need to be judged by observation and experience, not ideology. Religious institutions offer a closeness to communities and access to the most vulnerable that have few parallels. They have a capacity to communicate, and thus to address issues of stigma and discrimination. The difficult and sensitive topics we know all too well need to be broached and discussed. And we need better knowledge and appreciation of what faith inspired organizations actually do and deliver.

A religious leader who exemplifies the intertwined messages of inclusion and faith is Canon Gideon Byamugisha (pictured), a founder of INERELA+ (an international network of religious people affected by HIV and AIDS). An Anglican priest living with AIDS, his honesty, compassion, and humanity inspire many to rethink preconceptions and to act on what is best seen as their true faith.

People like Dr. Loures rarely escape the reality of a world that becomes more and more difficult and complex. The future is ever more unpredictable and problems like conflict, poverty, and disease can no longer be compartmentalized. Priorities seem to multiply faster than we can think them through.

That demands that we be flexible and have a clear eye to what is happening. Never should we forget the fundamental challenge: people must be the center. That should be the reference point for finance and partnerships. As Dr. Loures notes, “If we don’t deal with inequities, bringing people to the center of society, if we don’t deal with those who are left behind, there is no development. But if we can break the barriers of exclusion, it will take us far.”

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1st Annual National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Sunday. 23/8/2017

Published by ABC2NEWS

BALTIMORE (WMAR) - There are more than 30,000 people living with HIV in Maryland. Baltimore remains one of the nation's cities with the highest rates of AIDS. 

In order to raise awareness about prevention and early detection, advocates are using a different platform to spread the word. 

"When I found out I was HIV positive my first reaction was oh God please let me live long enough to see my kids graduate," said Gail Graham.

She was diagnosed in April 1997. While the years have passed, some painful memories are still fresh.

"I dealt with the stigma, so called friends didn't want to be associated with me, didn't want me to come to their homes and if I did they have me use paper plates," she said.

Graham has dedicated her life to advocacy. She’s with faith based groups in the community to help others living with HIV.

"We're not asking the churches to say yes it's okay to have sex," she said. "We're asking them to deal with the reality and the reality is Baltimore is still No. 10 with high rates of HIV and AIDS and it's due to a lack of education."

Places like Hope Springs are working to raise that awareness. The community organization is bringing people together through programs like "Hope Springs Café.”  Volunteers work inside local HIV clinics serving coffee and oatmeal while offering support to people who are HIV positive coming for their daily dose of medication.
       
"One out of 43 people in Baltimore are dealing with HIV," said Hope Springs co-director of Faith Community Outreach Robert Bullock said.

They're involving the religious community to help those living with the disease. Sunday Aug. 27 they'll host a National Faith HIV and AIDS Awareness Day with a prayer walk, a rally, and a health fair with opportunities for testing.

"We're excited about this and it's about the awareness and it's about participation, not just for one day Kelly but participation every single day," Bullock said.

And that's what Graham is praying for. She's lived long enough for her sons to be grown and to have a 10-year-old grandson. She wants others to have the same support.

"It's very important that we take this seriously because if we don't then we will never get rid of a disease that's 100 percent preventable," Graham said.

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Remarks by SANAC Chairperson, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa During the Men’s Dialogue. 18/8/2017

Published by SANAC

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses man and boys dialogue organised by religious leaders on HIV Aids and gender base violance in Soshanguve,Pretoria.17�82017 Kopano Tlape GCIS

SANAC Chairperson, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa receives a Leadership Award from the SANAC Religious Leaders Sector during the Men’s Dialogue against HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence and subtance abuse in Soshanguve, Pretoria. Image credit: Kopano Tlape, GCIS

Minister of Health, Mr Aaron Motsoaledi,
Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Mr Enver Surty,
Deputy Minister of Social Development, Ms Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu,
Religious Leaders,
Leadership of the South African National AIDS Council,
Leaders of civil society,
The community of Soshanguve,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today offers us an opportunity to be part of the change we want to see in our society. We applaud the contribution of the SANAC men’s sector in taking an unequivocal stance against gender-based violence. These are the men who know that we will not defeat the HIV pandemic if we do not root out this scourge and address the persistent inequality between men and women.

We extend our heartfelt appreciation to the South African Network of Religious Leaders Living With or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (SANERELA) for being our trusted ally in this struggle.

Today, our religious leaders are partnering with our communities to advance the health of our people. They are our most formidable ally in deepening exemplary moral conduct and promoting good sexual behaviour.

We look to them to use their places of worship to encourage men to go for testing.

We have faith in them that increasingly their sermons and counsel will discourage the stigmatisation of people living with HIV and TB.

We look to them to continue to give hope and to work for social cohesion.

They must remind our men that it is never too late to discard violence and bigotry.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses man and boys dialogue organised by religious leaders on HIV Aids and gender base violance in Soshanguve,Pretoria.17�82017 Kopano Tlape GCIS

Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Mohamed Surty; SANAC CHair, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa; Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi. Image credit: Kopano Tlape, GCIS

The voice of our religious leaders matter significantly in a community like Soshanguve. This is a community crying out for moral regeneration and yearning for social transformation. It is a community that wants to see children in school. It is a community angry and frustrated by high levels of drug and alcohol abuse which fuel the spread of HIV. It is a community that is sick and tired of living in fear of criminals.

Together with our religious leaders and civil society groups, we are determined to work tirelessly to inculcate positive values and change social behaviour. We are determined to bring the necessary interventions to end AIDS and TB related deaths.

Over a period of a year, our religious leaders will engage in a series of dialogues with men. They will mobilise them to end violence directed at women and children. Today’s event is therefore an important milestone in institutionalising and capacitating a responsive movement of men to address the myriad social challenges that face our communities.

South Africa’s faith based communities were the midwife of our hard-worn liberation. They remain a bedrock and pillar of our new nation. When we gaze into the future, we see our religious leaders there with our people rebuilding lives and sustaining hopes for a better tomorrow.

They have agreed to use their experience, imagination and faith to promote the health of South Africans. They are invested in promoting good values, inculcating peace and deepening social cohesion. They have reminded us of our responsibility to care and to serve. They are playing their part. Play yours.

Get tested, get treatment and avoid risky sexual behaviour. We urge our children and youth to stay at school and equip themselves with skills and education.

As men, it is in our hands to end sexism, patriarchy and violence against women and children.

I thank you.

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A Church that Cares for Its Youth in the Midst of HIV and AIDS. 8/8/2017

Published by BLOGOIKOUMENE

The old chapel of the United Evangelical Church "Anglican Community in Angola" in the neighborhood of Golf 1 in Luanda turned out to be quite small for the large number of students from the church's district school. 200 of them had come to attend a workshop on "HIV and AIDS amongst Adolescents and Youth: The Church´s Responsibility" on 2 August, organized by the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA) team.

All of them were thirsty to learn about HIV and AIDS, sexual violence, teenage pregnancies and gender-based violence. Their teachers, too, stayed from the beginning up to the end because they wanted to get fresh insights pertaining to the young people committed to them for education so that they may grow healthier in mind, body and intellectually.

The WCC-EHAIA staff meet the youngsters at their schools in order to teach and train them to confront the challenges that the young people are facing, especially on the issues of HIV and AIDS. Sexual violence in Luanda is on the rise. It causes teenage pregnancies and even deaths, as most rape victims when they discover that they are pregnant seek abortion from backyard midwives. As the midwives lack proper health training, some of these girls have lost their lives.

EHAIA decided to offer training to the Anglican College students in Golf 1  from age 14 to 18. They are particularly at risk of HIV infections also due to the phenomena of "sugar daddies": older men who exploit the economic harsh reality that Angola is undergoing at the moment to lure under-age girls into a sexual relationship with promises of financial support and gifts.

The very interactive workshop was a moment of reconnecting to the basic Christian value of love and care for one other. The students, two-thirds of them girls, could not stop asking questions. The parish pastor as well as the school director Álves Abílio Alexandre were extremely grateful that young pupils of their college had this opportunity to hear from the "experienced people" what they always learn "wrongly" from the streets or through their peers. "This was a good exposure and a memorable day to our students at the Anglican College in the sense that they came across with the green grass and calm water of knowledge. Thank you EHAIA for this opportunity", said Pastor Rodrigues Pedro Banza at the end of the workshop.

I am glad how much interest the students showed in the teaching. At one point five of them stood up and said that this was their first time to hear teaching of this nature, and asking us to please come back before this academic year ends. I strongly believe that it is our responsibility to pass on the torch of testimony to the next generation of believers in Christ Jesus if we want to be all on the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace. This pilgrimage calls upon each one of us to respond, and in the case of HIV and AIDS among adolescents and young adults we are required to go an extra mile through good deeds to others.

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Malawi: DHO Bemoans Pastors Who Mislead HIV Patients. 8/8/2017

Published by ALLAFRICA

The Blantyre District Health Office says the conduct of some pastors who proclaim to heal their followers from HIV/AIDS is increasing numbers of people defaulting from antiretroviral therapy (ART).

District health officer (DHO) Dr. Medson Matchaya has described the conduct unfortunate.

Matchaya said this in an interview with the Malawi News Agency (MANA) whenhe was commenting on some of the challenges the National HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan (NSP) is facing in realizing the ambitious 90-90-90 treatment target.

He said the tendency is saddening and unfortunate because defaulting puts the life of the patient at risk since ART works better if it is taken consistently.

"If the client defaults on ART, his life is at risk as the virus builds up resistance to the medication.

Therefore, no matter how consistent in future he or she may be on ART, their body cannot respond to medication; as the result we are forced to change the type of drugs given to them," he said.

Another challenge, according to Dr. Matchaya, is that the country does not have many types of ART drugs and when one develops resistance to the few drugs on the market, it becomes difficult to assist them medically.

"People should know that viral suppression beyond undetectable level does not mean that the virus has been eliminated but that the therapy is having effect on the body. They should not be fooled that they have been healed after being prayed for," he said.

National Association for People living with HIV/AIDS in Malawi (Napham) executive director, Master Mphande, said there is need for all stakeholders to join hands if the nation is to achieve the 90:90:90 target by the year 2020.

"As Napham we want all stakeholders to play their part so that the NSP is achieved for the betterment of people living with HIV/aids

The national HIV prevention strategy adopted UNAID'S ambitious 90-90-90 target where the nation wants to diagnose 90 percent of all people living with HIV, start and retain 90 percent of those diagnosed on antiretroviral therapy and finally achieve viral suppression for 90 percent of people on ART.

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Zimbabwe Symposium Emphasizes Working With Men in HIV Response. 27/7/2017

Published by OIKOUMENE

Working with boys and men is critical to the success of the UNAIDS Fast Track agenda, said Pierre Somse, UNAIDS senior advisor for Fast Track Innovation, speaking at a symposium in Harare, Zimbabwe.

The event, “Linking and Learning on work with Leadership, Men and Boys: A Regional Symposium on Gender Norms Transformation,” was held 19-20.

Somse is also UNAIDS Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa.

The symposium, convened by the Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information and Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS) in partnership with Sonke Gender Justice Network (Sonke), reaffirmed the urgency of working with religious and traditional leaders to address sexual and gender-based values and HIV.

More than 100 participants explored the question of whether current approaches to working with boys and men in the region were informed by Eurocentric paradigms, or whether African perspectives were also being taken into consideration.

The emerging consensus was that the most critical factor is the need to uphold gender justice and ensure that both women and men can thrive in their families, communities and nations. Traditional leaders bemoaned the abuse of culture by some men who perpetrated sexual and gender-based violence in the name of culture. They pointed out that in its essence, culture ought to be life-giving.

Presenters from different institutions and professional backgrounds underscored the importance of including boys and men in programmes to respond to HIV. They noted that the health outcomes for girls and women improve significantly when boys and men are included in sexual and reproductive health and rights programmes.

Prof. Ezra Chitando of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA) presented a paper on research and evidence related to interventions that focus on boys and men.

He gave examples of the Transformative Masculinities and Femininities trainings of WCC-EHAIA and highlighted how these are contributing significantly to the transformation of gender norms within faith communities.

Nakai Nengomasha from SAfAIDS described the need to engage senior male religious leaders in some theologically conservative churches. He described one initiative that seeks to work with leaders from African instituted churches that promote polygamy and early girl child marriages.

Some male religious leaders from such African instituted churches participated in the symposium and shared their experiences and challenges of transformation.

Rev. Bafana Khumalo, acting director, Sonke, reiterated the need to engage male religious leaders. He reminded participants that men continue to occupy positions of power within faith communities. Men who are committed to gender justice are a powerful resource in the struggle, he noted.

Lois Chingandu, SAfAIDS director, thanked the participants for their passion and commitment towards the transformation of gender norms and values in Southern Africa.

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Christianity Oppresses Women — Prof Mararike. 23/7/2017

Published by SUNDAYNEWS

PROMINENT academic and University of Zimbabwe (UZ) lecturer Professor Claude Mararike has ripped into Christianity, blaming the religion for the oppression of women and consequent dominance by men in African societies.

Speaking at a Southern Africa Aids Dissemination Service (SAfAids) regional symposium on gender norms transformation in Harare last week Prof Mararike described the church as a place where gender disparities were escalated. He said women in pre-colonial Africa had better statuses which they were, however, gradually stripped off with the coming in of the Christian religion. The renowned academic posited that in some pre-colonial African societies, women held significant decision making positions in both politics and religion before the advent of Christianity and colonisation.

“Before the white man came in women were leaders. Now this changed somehow to a point today where we only have three female chiefs. Before the 1940s there were women leaders, Nehoreka, Charewa chieftainship in the Mutoko District. In Mutare area there were nine women who were leaders. Chikanga Township was named after one of them,” he said.

Added Prof Mararike, “Ancestral spirits were also significant in decision making and most of them were females. Things changed drastically and women gradually did not take part in the decision making. They were helped in that position by Christianity”.

Prof Mararike said the sociolinguistic arrangement of the language used in churches which portrays God as of a male gender had largely contributed to the view that women should be subordinate to men.

“The male figure, baba/ubaba is a symbol of authority in a family. In Christiandom, God is similarly referred to as Father who art in heaven. The sociolinguistic arrangement of such language generally affects how people view the sexes and is therefore part of the politics of gender in which men seem to dominate in most societies,” he argued.

Prof Mararike said the in the African religion, particularly in Zimbabwe, the language portrayed God as belonging to a particular gender. He said addressing sociolinguistic arrangement of such gender insensitive language in churches and society at large would be the first step to attaining equality between men and women.

“The language of Baba vedu varikudenga/uBaba wethu osezulwini, our Father who art in heaven is found in Christianity. In African religion the word he or she was not used, there is no such thing. It’s only in Christianity where you talk about our Father in heaven. Some church leaders are even referred to as Father. We need to address that language. Would we want to say uBaba wethu osezulwini/Baba vedu varikudenga or simply Mwari wedu arikudenga/Uthixo wethu usezulwini. The latter would be better because if you say our Father who Art in Heaven, there must also be a mother,” he said.

Prof Mararike also touched on how language that is used in sex, courtship and marriage portrayed women as objects of men’s pleasure.

“In the language which relates to courtship, marriage and sex men are the subjects who do and women are the objects who are done. That language needs to be addressed. Men court women and women are courted by men, in a series of encounters which are both verbal duels and battles of wits.

Eventually the men convince the woman, and the woman abandons her protests and objections and gives in to the man’s demands. For a man to be loved, it comes after a long struggle and as a form of surrender or capitulation on the part of woman. To the man then, to be loved is victory and this gives him and his ego a big boost,” he argued.

“Even pregnancy is referred to in terms of a man making it happen and the woman then becomes a victim or object of the man’s action. The logical conclusion from all these examples is that indigenous people view sex as a form of invasion and conquest in which men annihilate women,” he said.

Prof Mararike said such language needed to be changed to cultivate equality between men and women.

“The point I’m making here is that if the language of courtship gives men that position, if the language of marriage gives men that position and if the language of sex gives man that position we need to address that language. The language of marriage I talked about requires some thinking. What is it that we want to do with the language and women’s roles?” he quizzed.

The Symposium, which ran under the banner “Youth Changing The River’s Flow” drew over 300 participants from countries in the Eastern and Southern African (ESA) region.

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Workshop Focuses on Eliminating Stigma Related to HIV. 20/7/2017

Published by OIKOUMENE

Twenty-five people took part in a workshop in Lome, Togo on 9-11 July jointly organized by the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA) and the Church of Sweden.

With the theme “Sexuality and HIV,” the training drew people from organizations including Afrique Arc-en-Ciel, MEN’s, Espoir Vie-Togo, FHI 360, representing Catholic, Protestant, Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim and other faiths.

The first of its kind in the region, the training focused mainly on the SAVE methodology, which stands for Safer practices, Access and availability of medication, Voluntary counseling and testing, and Empowering communities with skills.

Participants discussed issues related to false security, assumptions, and social constructs which create more vulnerability and risks. The higher the stigma is in the community, the higher the vulnerability and risks that lead to more new HIV infections.

EHAIA helps local communities learn how to create intergenerational “safe spaces” in which children, adolescents, young people, families, faith communities and school personnel can have honest conversations about age-appropriate sex education, as well as HIV, sexual and gender-based violence, all of which are major drivers of new HIV infections across different age groups.

Participants used contextual Bible study as a tool to create a safe space in which to discuss sexuality, gender, patriarchy, violence, power and HIV. Other sessions highlighted HIV prevention, human dignity and rights, the role of religious leaders and the media in responding to homophobia.

Access to treatment, particularly antiretrovirals, was discussed with relation to prolonging life and restoring people to wellness, allowing the immune system to recover and improving the quality of life for people living with HIV.

A team from Espoir Vie-Togo offered free counseling and testing, supporting the campaign “Leading by Example: Religious Leaders and HIV Testing” which continues in social media under the hashtag #KnowYourStatus.

At the conclusion of the workshop, participants appealed to religious communities to acknowledge the existence of sexual and gender-based violence and to invest more in related theological reflections.

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Faith Communities Offer a Pathway to Ending AIDS in Africa. 19/7/2017

Published by RELIGIONNEWS

 Since the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, many communities of faith have supported millions of people living with HIV and kept future generations free from HIV through their prevention efforts.

Their engagement on the front lines of health, especially in the Global South, predates that of many health organizations. Churches have built countless hospitals and clinics; faith leaders, including women, were among the first responders to HIV.

Today, communities from all faith traditions are engaged in the HIV response. Their continued leadership in ensuring respect for human dignity, justice and rights is critical.

As the world accelerates its efforts to end AIDS, faith communities remain central to our success.

Communities of faith offer a path to many who are hard to reach. Their mission to deliver compassion and care to all in need, including the world’s poorest and those shunned by society, has deepened and broadened the impact of the global response to AIDS.

That special openness has never been more important than today, when ending AIDS requires reaching all who are living with, or who are at risk for contracting, HIV.

I appreciated anew the critical role of the faith community in ending AIDS earlier this month when I was in Addis Ababa for the 29th African Union Summit.

During the meeting, African heads of state recommitted to reaching more people in need, more quickly. Faith leaders and their congregations will play a critical role in these efforts. Across Africa we are “fast-tracking” our efforts.

This includes efforts to revitalize HIV prevention, especially among adolescent girls and young women; consolidate progress on elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV; accelerate implementation of HIV testing and treatment for men; and address financial sustainability for the AIDS response. The church has an important role to play in each of these goals.

This plan is based on the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) “Fast-Track” approach, which demonstrates that if we front-load resources and apply our efforts to the people and places where the need is greatest, by 2020 we can expand prevention and treatment and put the world on course to end AIDS by 2030.

“Fast-Track” modeling shows that using tools and knowledge we have, we could avert an additional 17.6 million new HIV infections and 10.8 million AIDS-related deaths.

 

Nine-year-old Tumelo shows off antiretroviral pills before taking his medication at Nkosi’s Haven, south of Johannesburg, South Africa, on Nov. 28, 2014. Nkosi’s Haven provides residential care for destitute HIV-positive mothers and their children, whether HIV-positive or not. Photo by Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Enormous progress has been made in the global response to HIV. Of the 37 million people living with the virus, more than 18 million are receiving treatment.

But another 18 million men, women and children living with HIV aren’t getting it. Millions more need tailored, age-specific HIV prevention services that embrace the UNAIDS life-cycle approach of ensuring that children are born HIV-free, that they stay HIV-free through their adolescent and adult lives and that lifesaving HIV treatment is available to all living with HIV.

To reach this goal, we must call for global solidarity to quicken the pace of our outreach, in which the faith community must play a leading role.

Whether speaking about AIDS, maternal and child health, vaccines, sanitation, nutrition, family planning or other critical lifesaving issues, church elders are powerful educators. The respect and trust they engender allow them to address sensitive issues in ways that make their congregations comfortable and better able to protect themselves.

Faith leaders can be especially effective talking to young people by encouraging messages of inclusion for all, even the most marginalized. Such talk should be underpinned by scientific evidence of what works and what doesn’t. Reaching this next generation is paramount, given that the largest cohort of young people ever is about to come of age in Africa.

Today in sub-Saharan Africa, young women and girls are eight times more likely to contract HIV than their male peers. Young people rarely visit health centers; educating and protecting them before they are exposed to HIV is essential for ending AIDS.

Faith leaders also have a unique role in reaching men and boys, two groups that rarely intersect traditional health systems unless they have a health emergency. Too many men and boys don’t know their HIV status and aren’t accessing prevention or treatment services. We won’t reach them in the clinics, but we will reach them in their houses of worship.

In addition, faith-based organizations can be particularly effective at reducing HIV-related stigma and discrimination. In so doing, they make it easier for all people to come forward for services, stay on treatment — and stay healthy. The church’s holistic approach delivers both healing and hope to individuals affected and infected with HIV.

Faith-led, family-centered care clinics teach not just the person living with HIV but also the person’s extended family. By helping those closest to a person living with HIV understand the disease, including the reality that treatment leads to viral suppression, which prevents transmission, faith leaders increase the odds that people with HIV will have the emotional support they need to stay healthy. Caring for and supporting the whole family also means spouses and children remain HIV-free.

Healthy adults can raise healthy children. With families intact, fewer children are orphaned. When communities are protected, nations become stronger, more peaceful and more secure.

The opportunity to end AIDS is within our reach. But getting to the finish line will only be possible with communities of faith working together and continuing their long-standing commitment to compassionate care and service.

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“Do You Know Where to Search for Your Lost Child?” 18/7/2017

Published by OIKOUMENE

As Rev. Pauline Wanjiru Njiru preached on 18 June at the Malawi United Methodist Church in Blantyre, she acknowledged that parenting adolescents is not an easy task.

Njiru preached on Luke 2:41-52, the story of how, when Jesus’s parents went to the festival of Passover, they left for home and Jesus, who was 12 years old, stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents thought he was part of their traveling party, and didn’t realize for a day. They returned to Jerusalem and, after three more days, they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

Njiru, who is eastern Africa regional coordinator for the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA) reflected on this story, asking how we can amplify the voices of young people.

EHAIA helps local communities learn how to create intergenerational “safe spaces” in which children, adolescents, young people, families, faith communities and school personnel can have honest conversations about age-appropriate sex education, as well as HIV and sexual gender-based violence, one of the major drivers of new HIV infections across different age groups.

Njiru reflected that, when Jesus was 12, his parents assumed he was still a young boy who would follow them unquestioningly. “What are some of the assumptions that the parents and church leaders have about the whereabouts of the young people?” Njiru asked. “When you realize that your child is not with you, what action do you take?”

Parents think the children are lost while the young people are adventuring, said Njiru. “At what point do parents realize that their children are no longer children?”

The beauty in this story is that Mary, Joseph and Jesus agree to go home together. “Let us create safe space of mutual understanding where all of us can be heard and understood,” she said.

Unpacking responsibilities as young women

Njiru’s sermon was given in connection with training hosted at the same church. Thirty-five clergy wives and women leaders from all the twenty-one circuits of the United Methodist Church in Malawi attended.

The women got an opportunity to unpack their responsibilities as church leaders, wives and mothers. They acknowledged that sexual gender-based violence was a lived reality even in their circles and their communities.

The women used contextual Bible study open their engagement with the word of God. They also discussed why people continue to bear the brunt of HIV because of stigma, shame, denial, discrimination, inaction and mis-action. They learned about the SAVE methodology, which stands for Safer practices, Access and availability of medication, Voluntary counseling and testing, and Empowering communities with skills.

Participants committed to educate their communities and churches, and to create more awareness of “safe spaces” to talk about these issues at home, school, and within the community.

Adolescent girls speak out

During a workshop held especially for them, adolescent girls expressed their energy and determination to serve and live for Christ. At the same time, they admitted their fears stood like tall mountains in front of them.

Many of them described how they felt engulfed by a culture and religion which pushes them into a corner and denies them a voice or a safe space in which to speak out.

Some said they do not feel safe in school because some of the teachers demand sex in exchange for learning. Some do not feel safe at home because their relatives sexually molest them. Some felt their church was an unsafe place since some pastors were also demanding sex from them.

The young girls named culture as a major cause for their vulnerability to HIV infections. In some cultures the concept of the “hyena” is still practiced: the community identifies a man who is named the hyena and his job is to break a girl’s virginity in readiness for marriage.

The girls attending the workshop shared how one hyena infected 20 girls in one community with HIV. The hyena was taken to court but was exonerated arguing that he was not responsible for the HIV transmission, and that the culture was responsible.

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Is Religion the New Colonial Frontier in International Development? 6/7/2017

Published by IPSNEWS

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 4 2017 (IPS) - A decade ago, it was difficult to get Western policy makers in governments to be interested in the role of religious organizations in human development. The secular mind-set was such that religion was perceived, at best, as a private affair. At worst, religion was deemed the cause of harmful social practices, an obstacle to the “sacred” nature of universal human rights, and/or the root cause of terrorism. In short, religion belonged in the ‘basket of deplorables’.

Azza Karam, Senior Advisor, UNFPA and Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development

Azza Karam, Senior Advisor, UNFPA and Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development

Yet, starting in the mid-1990s with then President of the World Bank, James Wolfenson, and celebrated in 2000 under then UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan when the Millenium Development Goals were agreed to, a number of religiously-inspired initiatives coalesced, all trying to move ‘religion’ to international development’s ‘basket of desirables’.

The arguments used to begin to generate positive interest in the role of religious NGOs in international multilateral fora were relatively straightforward. Today they are almost a cliche: religious institutions are the oldest social service providers known to human kind, and several basic health and educational institutions of today, are administered or influenced to some extent, by religious entities.

So if we are serious about strengthening health systems and universal access to healthcare, enhancing educational institutions, content and accessibility, protecting our environment, safeguarding the rights of marginlised and vulnerable populations, countering social exclusion and ensuring human dignity, then – the argument is – we have to work with those who influence minds, hearts, and continue to provide and manage significant amounts of social services in most countries. Facts and figures as to how many social services are provided by/through religious institutions continue to be provided and roundly disputed.

The number of initiatives within the secular multilaterals – like the UN – which focused on ‘religion and development’ began to slowly attract the attention (and the money) of some western donor governments such as Switzerland and Norway, both of whom were keen on mobilising religious support for women’s rights in particular. Some governments (such as the USA and the UK) dabbled in engaging with religious NGOs both at home in their own countries, and supporting some of them in their development and humanitarian work abroad.

Nevertheless, from a multilateral perspective, the larger tapestry of western donor support to efforts around religion, tended to be marginal – dipping toes in the water rather than taking a plunge.

With the increasing presence of al-Qaeda on the world stage in 2001, and the subsequent war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the world witnessed the emerging gruesome hydras of religious extremism, at once fueling, and being fueled by, the phenomena of ultra nationalism, racism, xenophobia and misogyny. Some western governments spoke openly of engaging religious actors in counter-terrorism, but this narrative was fraught with political tensions.

It was only when migrants appeared to ‘flood’ European shores (albeit in numbers which are only a fraction of those ending up in developing countries), that there was a noticeable surge of keen interest by several western governments in ‘this religion thing’.

For the UN developmental entities who had invested significantly to generate the interest of their largest western donors in the relevance of religions to development, spurred by the learning from the MDGs and with a view to realizing Agenda 2030, there was a noticeable volte face which was taking place right under their noses.

Almost overnight, UN-steered initiatives to engage with religious actors and enhance partnerships around health, education, environment, women’s rights, humanitarian work, all of which had been painstakingly prepared and backed by years of research, consultations, networking and shared practice (as the work of the UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development testifies) became the object of desire by some governments.

Rather than seek to support the UN in continuing to engage with this work and the critical partnerships developed and labored over for years, however, the objective of these governments is to seek to directly manage the convening, networking and funding roles of faith-based entities, ostensibly with the same objectives of achieving the SDGs.

But there is a critical difference between the UN convening and working with faith-based organizations and religious leaders, and one or a handful of governments doing so. To survive, to thrive, and to protect human rights, the agenda of multilateral entities has to remain distinct from the national self-interest of any one government – or a handful thereof – no matter how powerful this government (or these governments), may be.

This applies to all issues, constituencies and types of partnerships outlined in SDG 17. But the argument here is even more powerful: that where religions are concerned, the need for unbiased and non-partisan engagement with religious actors, distinct from any one nation’s self-interest, is crucial.

If there is suspicion about the role of a non-western government in supporting religious actors in countries outside of its own, then why do we not also suspect western governments of involving themselves in supporting religious efforts in countries other than their own?

This question becomes especially pertinent when we begin to look at the religious composition of the western governments now keen on ‘supporting religion and development’ abroad – they are mostly Christian. And if we look at the governments viewed with much suspicion who have long been supporting religious engagement overseas (also for development and humanitarian purposes, one might add), they tend to be Muslim. A coincidence perhaps?

To avoid these kinds of questions, it would behoove all concerned parties interested in achieving the significant targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, and with a view to endorsing the United Nations’ mandate of safeguarding peace and security and protecting human rights, to support the efforts of the UN system in engaging the whole of civil society.

Rather than efforts driven by some governments, to work with select religious actors, in some countries, the challenge (which is fully achievable) is to strengthen the multi-faith and broad-based civic coalitions of legally registered, bona fide NGOs, working with and known to their governments and to the UN entities, at national, regional and global levels, to deliver for the world.

Otherwise, the danger is that such efforts will be misconstrued as the new colonial enterprise in international development, playing into rising religious tensions globally. History is replete with examples where mobilizing religious actors in other countries, no matter how well-intentioned, can create some rather unholy alliances.

 

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Gender-Based Violence is Affliction for Church and Society, says WCC’s Phiri. 2/7/2017

Published by OIKOUMENE

“The world is calling upon the faith leaders to use their power for justice for the excluded and discriminated against, and for the exploited planet earth,” says Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, the deputy general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

“Of particular concern for us today…a global phenomenon, is when the gender-based violence is happening in our own churches and homes,” said Phiri.

Phiri was speaking on Gender Justice on 1 July with Indian theologian the Rev. Dr. Philip Vinod Peacock on justice from the experience of Africa and Asia. at the General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), meeting in the eastern German city of Leipzig from 29 June to 7 July.

“Sexual and any form of violence against minorities and marginalized groups of people is about power and control,” said Phiri who is in charge of Public Witness and Diakonia at the WCC  and a former academic theologian in South Africa from Malawi.

“The time of normalizing the oppression of the minorities in our churches is over,” she said.

“We are now leading by example by protecting those who are not able to speak for themselves or those whose voices are not listened to. Let your voices be heard in your countries and in international spaces as you speak out for justice.”

Campaigns such as “Thursdays in Black”, observed at this WCRC General Council are a significant symbol of solidarity to end any form violence in the church and society she noted.

Refusing to join conspiracy of silence

They are, said Phiri, an example of refusing to join the conspiracy of silence over sexual and gender-based violence in the church and in Christian homes.

In a world marked by injustice and discrimination, churches need to recognize how they intertwine with power structures, if they are to promote justice and solidarity asserted Phiri.

The former director of the Centre for Constructive Theology at the University of KwaZulu Natal, in Pietermaritzburg said gender oppression permeates all sectors of life and interacts with other forms of oppression such as class, race, ethnicity, age and sexual orientation.

“Sexual and any form of violence against minorities and marginalized groups of people is about power and control,” said Phiri.

Human trafficking is increasing, she said, and many children and women migrants and refugees face sexual and gender-based violence in camps, on their way to new countries.

“While the message of the gospel is about inclusivity, as communities of faith, we are not speaking out loud enough to stop the killing of people on the basis of their sexual orientation,” she rued.

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Global Gathering Challenged to Overcome Church Entanglement with Injustice. 1/7/2017

Published by WCRC

In a world marked by injustice and discrimination, churches need to recognize how they are intertwined with structures of power if they are to promote justice and solidarity, a global gathering of Reformed Christians has heard.

“The world is calling upon the faith leaders to use their power for justice for the excluded and discriminated against, and for the exploited planet earth,” said Dr. Isabel Apawo Phiri, an African theologian originally from Malawi.

Phiri was speaking to the General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, meeting in the eastern German city of Leipzig from 29 June to 7 July.

Now based in Geneva as deputy general secretary of the World Council of Churches for public witness and diakonia, Phiri was speaking at a 1 July presentation with Indian theologian the Rev. Dr. Philip Vinod Peacock on justice from the experience of Africa and Asia.

Speaking on gender justice, Phiri said gender oppression permeates all sectors of life and interacts with other forms of oppression such as class, race, ethnicity, age and sexual orientation.

“The extremely difficult conversations of our times have been about all forms of sexual and gender based violence in the church and society,” said Phiri, especially when gender-based violence is happening in churches.

“Sexual and any form of violence against minorities and marginalised groups of people is about power and control,” said Phiri, formerly director of the Centre for Constructive Theology at the University of KwaZulu Natal, in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

Human trafficking is on the increase, said Phiri, and many children and women migrants and refugees are facing sexual and gender based violence in camps, en route to new countries and in the host countries.

“While the message of the gospel is about inclusivity, as communities of faith, we are not speaking out loud enough to stop the killing of people on the basis of their sexual orientation,” she continued.

“The time of normalizing the oppression of the minorities in our churches is over,” said Phiri.

Church leaders, said Phiri, needed to use their authority to speak out against any form of injustice, starting from within the church itself.

“Hard conversations are still taking place about whether women should be allowed to take leadership positions in the church or not,” said Phiri. “There are still few women who are participating in leadership roles including the ordination of women.”

Among other “hard questions” being asked, she said, is whether gender differentiation is the result of creation by God and therefore to be accepted as the norm, or constructed by cultures and religions and therefore is open to change.

“Our use of worship language is still in question,” Phiri continued, and there are still debates about “whether we should use inclusive language in our worship or continue to use male dominated language.”

In his presentation, Peacock spoke of the “deepening crisis of the world,” seen in the military complex, neo-liberal capitalism upholding the idolatry of profit, a rapidly growing racism extinguishing young black men or locking them away and a wave of Islamophobia.

“And these forces combine in special and unique ways to inflict violence on the bodies of women and sexual minorities,” said Peacock, associate professor at Bishop’s College, a theological college belonging to the Church of North India in Kolkata.

“The military-industrial-patriarchal complex is a many headed monster that is destroying life and denying the promise of life in its fullness,” he said.

At the same time, he warned, the church needs to understand that it is located today in the midst of power. “We are powerful and are responsible for much exclusionary violence around the world,” said Peacock.

He underlined the importance of the WCRC’s Accra Confession of 2004 which called for a faith commitment in the face of economic injustice and ecological destruction.

“Our struggles for justice arise out of our faith and our commitment to struggle to be faithful disciples of Jesus in our world today,” he said. “It is not Christians who should be involved with acts of justice, rather it is doing acts of justice that make us Christian.”

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Call to Action: Act now for children and adolescents living with HIV. 15/6/2017

Published by OIKOUMENE

To sign this Call to Action as a religious leader, please contact francesca.merico@wcc-coe.org

About 1.8 million children under the age of 15 years are living with HIV. Every day, 400 children are newly infected, and 300 die. Fewer than half of the children needing treatment are receiving it. HIV is the second largest cause of adolescent deaths globally. In 2015 alone, 670,000 young people between the ages of 15 to 24 were newly infected with HIV. To make matters worse, children living with HIV are at serious risk of tuberculosis (TB). In 2015, 210,000 children died from TB. We must act now to ensure access to appropriate testing and treatment for children living with HIV.

As religious leaders and leaders of faith-based organizations, we remind governments of their commitments agreed in the June 2016 United Nations’ Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS that there should be “special emphasis on providing 1.6 million children (0-14 years of age) with antiretroviral therapy by 2018.”

We call on governments and the international community to take action in six key areas:

1.    Funded national plans: Ministries of Health and Finance must review their national and local plans and allocate sufficient funding to ensure that all children and adolescents living with HIV will have access to testing and treatment by 2018 and that by 2020 these children remain on treatment and are virally suppressed.

2.    Early diagnosis: Ministries of Health and Finance must prioritize HIV testing as soon after birth as possible for infants of women living with HIV, as peak mortality for babies living with HIV occurs within the first six weeks. Point-of-care pediatric diagnostics must be included in national scale-up plans and introduced as soon as possible.

3.    Appropriate medicines: Pharmaceutical and generic drug companies must develop formulations of their drugs that children can swallow, and are palatable, affordable and store well. For their part, Ministries of Health and regulatory bodies must ensure the speedy registration of WHO prequalified medications for children. Donors must support the Global Accelerator for Pediatric formulations (GAPf) which mitigates the risks faced by drug companies in producing medicines for such a relatively small market.

4.    Access to TB drugs: Ministries of Health and Finance must prioritize the national roll-out of quality-assured, affordable, child-friendly TB medicines in the correct internationally-recommended dosages that are now available. Pharmaceutical and generic drug companies must urgently develop paediatric formulations of selected drugs to treat multi-drug resistant TB.

5.    Eliminate stigma: Ministries of Education and Health must commit to ensuring that all children living with and affected by HIV are free from stigma and discrimination, paying particular attention to ensuring that schools are HIV stigma-free environments.

6.    Address food insecurity: Ministries of Health and Finance must commit to ensuring food and nutrition support to enhance treatment adherence and retention in care for children and adolescents living with HIV and TB.

We commit to:

1.    Speak out and engage with key stakeholders in support of the rights of children and adolescents living with HIV.

2.    Utilize congregational platforms for outreach to encourage community members to make full use of services for children living with HIV.

To sign this Call to Action as a religious leader, please contact francesca.merico@wcc-coe.org

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Faith on the Fast-Track - For Children Living with HIV. 13/9/2017

Published by OIKOUMENE

Faith-based organizations are at the heart of a special mission: issuing a call to actionto ensure that infants, children and adolescents around the world have access to HIV prevention, testing and treatment.

Gathering in New York on 13 September for an interfaith prayer breakfast hosted by the World Council of Churches–Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) in collaboration with UNAIDS, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the United Nations Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development on the sidelines of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, faith leaders from a multitude of religions came together to support a coordinated faith-based effort in responding to HIV.

“The role of faith-based organizations in the communities is crucial to the HIV response,” said World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit in welcoming the participants. “Their preaching, teaching and caring changes people.”

“Children should be at the centre of our attention and work,” Tveit continued. “They are the most vulnerable, and at the same time the least responsible for this situation. So let’s do this together – we can. May God give us the courage.”

Faith-based organizations have played a critical role in responding to HIV since the start of the epidemic more than 35 years ago. A unique position of trust at the heart of communities has allowed faith-based organizations to provide services and support that extend beyond the reach of many public-sector health systems.

“When we look at the data we have, we can now see precisely who is being left behind,” said U.S. ambassador-at-large Deborah L. Birx, M.D., coordinator of the United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS and U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy. ”There is still stigma and discrimination, and still that barrier where parents do not want to come forward to risk being identified as HIV positive. This is where we need the churches, to ensure that every pregnant woman feels the love of God, and understands that we are there to serve and ensure that their infant is tested in time.”

”‪Our partnership is key,” continued Dr Luiz Loures, deputy executive director of UNAIDS and assistant secretary general of the United Nations. ”Faith-based organizations are not just a ‪part of the response but at the core of it. I am clear now that much ‪more is needed - we need to step up our action to achieve the paediatric targets.”

In 2016 faith-based organizations have held a series of consultations on how to accelerate action at the Vatican in Rome, and in June 2017, the WCC-EAA launched a global call to action entitled “Act now for children and adolescents living with HIV”, to mobilize faith communities around the target of providing 1.6 million children and 1.2 million adolescents living with HIV with antiretroviral therapy by 2018, and the ultimate goal of ending AIDS in children by 2020.

There are good reasons for the call to action. UNAIDS’ latest report shows that in 2016 there were 2.1 million children ages 0-14 living with HIV, of which less than half had access to treatment, and 2.1 million adolescents ages 10-19 were living with HIV, a 30% increase from 2005.

Behind low coverage lies low detection rates, where in 2016 only 43% of HIV-exposed infants received early infant diagnostic services within the first two months of life, as recommended. And globally, HIV remains the seventh leading cause of death among children aged 10–14 years in 2015, and the ninth leading cause of death among adolescents overall, despite the availability of effective treatment.

Concerted global efforts are being made to address these challenges. In 2016, United Nations Member States committed to put special emphasis on providing 1.6 million children with access to antiretroviral therapy by 2018 and ensuring that children, adolescents and adults living with HIV know their status and are immediately offered and sustained on affordable and accessible quality treatment.

These ambitious targets, called the super-fast track for children, have been incorporated into a framework for action led by UNAIDS, PEPFAR and partners: Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free, which seeks to put the world firmly on a path to ending AIDS among children.

The engagement of the faith community is paramount to achieving these goals and at the 13 September event, a variety of calls to action and declarations were formulated, calling for strong follow-up actions, recommendations and commitments to ensure a Fast-Track faith-based response to make HIV testing and treatment available for children and adolescents by 2020.

“We come here today not to criticise or blame but to offer help and encouragement as well as to share the urgency and moral imperative of this issue,” concluded keynote speaker Sister Carol Keehan, president & CEO of the Catholic Health Association. “We are literally talking about survival. The survival of children which depends on effective action by the nations of the world. We are each called to look to our faith as the foundation for our response to HIV.”

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Nigeria Gathering Inspires Courage Among Women with Disabilities. 30/6/2017

Published by OIKOUMENE

“Before being identified as a person with disability, you are a woman with the same rights,” said Hellen Anurika Udoye Beyioku-Alase, a young woman with a disability.

She was among some 70 women who gathered at the Swiss International Hotel in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, on 22-23 June around the theme “Women with Disabilities, Sexual Reproductive Health and HIV.”

Women with disabilities shared their views, experiences and good practices on their vulnerability to the risks of emotional, physical, economic and sexual abuse during the conference, which was supported by the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy and Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network.

Planned for 50 women, more than 70 women (who are blind, deaf, mute or with various types of physical challenges, many using wheelchairs, crutches and canes) from the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) regrouped under the umbrella of BOLD (Beautiful Outstanding Ladies with disabilities) Hearts Network. They met to reflect on their challenges and sexuality in order to be able to reach out to others with positive messages on disability, body image, and HIV.

According to the World Bank Group, one billion people, or 15% of the world's population, experience some form of disability. It is increasingly recognized that persons with disabilities are often more vulnerable to HIV infection for a variety of reasons. From this perspective, participants discussed body image and sexuality.

The women also learned negotiating skills and assertiveness to help overcome their challenges in communicating about sexuality. They also observed Thursdays in Black, a campaign against sexual and gender-based violence, followed by a contextual Bible study.

Feeling they had a “safe space” in which to communicate, participants committed to appoint regional representatives of the BOLD Hearts Network in Nigeria to reach out to women with disabilities in churches and engage them in training to create more awareness, and reduce vulnerability and stigmatization.

A team from the Presbyterian Community Services and Development was on the ground to offer free HIV testing and counseling, helping to build on the campaign “Know your status,” an initiative that encourages organizations across the country to help more people learn their HIV status.

The women adopted a slogan - Bold Ladies, Bold Heart - in order to inspire  continued discussions and encourage other women with disabilities to live a fruitful life.

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Presbyterian AIDS Awareness Day Observed in Conjunction with National HIV Testing Day. 26/6/2017

Published by PRESBYTERIANMISSION

The Presbyterian AIDS Network (PAN) encourages Presbyterians to observe Presbyterian AIDS Awareness Day on or near June 27. PAN is providing worship, advocacy, and informational resources to help individuals and congregations combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic across the nation and around the world.

PAN, part of Compassion Peace, and Justice’s Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA), advocates care for persons and families infected or affected by HIV and AIDS. Presbyterian AIDS Awareness Day is a new observance born from a 2016 General Assembly overture that directs “the Stated Clerk to designate one Sunday a year, beginning with 2016 through 2020, as PC(USA) AIDS Sunday for the purpose of raising awareness, lifting prayer, and promoting advocacy among PC(USA) members.”

Presbyterian AIDS Awareness Day is held this year in conjunction with National HIV Testing Day, which originated in 1995. George Kerr, co-moderator for PAN and an elder in Westminster Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., acknowledged that the short lead time in placing Presbyterian AIDS Awareness Day on the calendar provides a significant challenge for creating awareness among churches and congregants.

“We struggled with how churches were going to find out about this observance, but proceeded to create a comprehensive packet of resources for them to use throughout this year,” said Kerr. “We feel these resources represent some of the best work other organizations are doing within the field, so we highly recommend individuals or churches use them to get involved locally or on a national level, wherever they can.”

Kerr also emphasized that Presbyterian AIDS Awareness Day does not supplant the network’s or the church’s observance of World AIDS Day, which has been held on December 1 every year since 1988.

“This provides PAN an additional opportunity to communicate that we have a lot of work remaining, especially with this new Congress and administration,” said Kerr. “The potential cuts to HIV/AIDS funding could be devastating to people living with HIV or AIDS; the proposed cuts will also hinder prevention and research efforts.”

Ann Jones, a PAN co-moderator with Kerr and elder in First Presbyterian Church of Columbus, Indiana, noted that in this instance, twice the recognition is not only better, but needed.

“The amount of interest or concern about HIV/AIDS has dwindled considerably so we believe it is important to keep the issue before our congregations on a regular basis,” said Jones. “PAN leadership selected June 27 because it is National HIV Testing Day, and in the U.S. prevention has not been stellar. We also like the fact it does not conflict with the Christmas holidays. We do something in our community every year on World AIDS Day and will continue to do so.”

In a letter addressed to members and friends of PAN, which can be read in its entirety in the resource packet, Kerr and Jones note that the proposed 2018 U.S. budget eliminates two critical components of the Ryan White program and cuts HIV prevention by 20 percent; greatly reduces the Minority AIDS Initiative Fund; cuts funding for the National Institutes of Health by 20 percent and reduces the budget for housing and support services for people living with AIDS by $26 million. The letter also notes that Medicaid restructuring is likely to reduce a state’s or community’s ability to prevent AIDS and deliver high quality health care to those diagnosed with HIV or AIDS.

The potential budget cuts bring fear to Jones, who experienced horrific conditions in Africa as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and saw first-hand the effects of the disease on all sectors of the population.

“We’ve made tremendous progress on treatment and prevention over the years, and researchers are still working hard to eradicate the disease. I’ve been hopeful for an eventual cure but the administration’s budget proposals present scary scenarios for huge reductions in Medicaid, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and the Global Fund for AIDS, TB, and malaria. I cannot imagine the pain and poverty this could create in people’s lives,” said Jones.

Kerr suggests Presbyterians utilize advocacy efforts in reaching out to their local, state, and federal representatives to make their opinions and voices heard. Making contact now is particularly timely given the GOP’s recent unveiling of its health care plan.

“Write letters, write emails, make phone calls – the GOP health care plan is hurtful for those living with HIV/AIDS in particular, as well as other chronic illnesses,” said Kerr. “We know grass roots activism is working; they are listening, to a degree, to what the community has to say.”

The Presbyterian AIDS Network is also working on the first National Faith and HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, which will bring several faith communities together on August 27, 2017 for a rally and prayer march in Washington D.C. and 12 different cities.

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Faith-Based Organizations Vital to the Response to HIV. 19/6/2017

Published by UNAIDS

Stepping up the role of faith-based organizations in the response to HIV can present new opportunities to save the lives of children living with HIV in western and central Africa, agreed the participants at a meeting held in Abuja, Nigeria, on 14–16 June.

The Regional Consultation on Early Diagnosis and Treatment for HIV-Positive Children: Strengthening the Engagement of Faith-Based Organizations saw more than 100 representatives of faith-based organizations, governments and organizations of people living with HIV come together to discuss the role of faith-based organizations in the response to HIV. The participants, who were mainly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, agreed that churches, mosques, religious leaders and the health facilities they support are critical to ensuring that HIV among children is diagnosed and treated.

The participants developed plans to create demand for testing and treatment, as well as to support people living with HIV to stay in care. The participants also planned to build the capacity of faith-based service providers to deliver quality HIV services for children and discussed the strengthening of age-appropriate HIV and sexual health education in faith schools.

The event was organized by Caritas Internationalis, UNAIDS and the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, with the support of Caritas Nigeria.

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Day of the African Child’ An Opportunity to Raise Awareness on Pediatric AIDS. 14/6/2017

Published by OIKOUMENE

More than 600 people are scheduled to gather in Nairobi, Kenya on 16 June, the Day of the African Child, with the goal of speaking out for ending the AIDS epidemic among children, adolescents and young women by 2020.

The event commemorating the Day of the African Child will call for support by religious leaders, from the grassroots to around the globe, to make sure that all children and adolescents living with HIV and TB have access to life-saving medications. The event will start with a procession at 7:00 a.m. at All Saints Cathedral to Ufungamano House, where an interfaith prayer meeting will be held featuring speeches, children and adolescents’ performances and a ceremony.

The World Council of Churches - Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) in partnership with the Kenya chapter of the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS (INERELA+ Kenya), along with many other organizations, is coordinating the event as a way to highlight country-led action that is backed by global support.

Participants will launch a global call to action for religious leaders on treatment for HIV and TB among children and adolescents. Holding the launch on the Day of the African Child highlights that the majority of children living with HIV are from Africa.

HIV testing and counseling services will be offered at the event to the adolescents and young people present, as well as religious leaders. The tests will not only serve as a diagnostic tool but will also enhance dialogue between children, adolescents, young people, religious leaders and the government of Kenya on HIV, TB, and stigma and discrimination.

“The purpose of the event is to add momentum locally to a global faith movement for action and change for children and adolescents living with HIV,” said Francesca Merico, WCC-EAA HIV campaign coordinator. “For some, this will spark some new thinking. For others, this will reinforce and build upon their already effective efforts to end AIDS.”

Faith communities are a vital link to the lives of those most vulnerable, noted Rev. Amy Gopp, vice president for external relations for IMA World Health. “If we are to end the scourge of HIV, our communities of faith must equip leaders to address HIV in their own, unique contexts,” she said. “IMA World Health is honored to join the WCC in the effort to engage and support faith leaders as we work together to promote testing, treatment and access to services for all God's children."

IMA will be releasing Sermon & Khutuba guides in coordination with the event to support religious leaders with theological resources relating to pediatric HIV and TB.

Religious leaders living with or personally affected by HIV also play a leading role in ending HIV and TB pandemics in Kenya, said Jane Ng’ang’a, national coordinator of INERELA+ Kenya.

“Collectively, we have made great achievements in the treatment and care of people living with and affected by HIV,” she said. “We are committed to ensure that we end stigma and discrimination in our faith communities by making our congregations a place of hope and refuge for all. We are further committed to ensure that the voice of every person living with or personally affected by HIV and TB is heard and supported without judgment or prejudice, including children, adolescents and young people.”

Ng’ang’a continued: “We will continue to initiate programs that will go a long way in supporting families that are infected and affected by HIV and TB across the country.”

The Day of the African Child event in Nairobi is part of a broader faith advocacy project on pediatric AIDS and treatment for adolescents led at global level by the WCC-EAA. The initiative is mobilizing faith communities and leaders to maximize the implementation of the “Start Free, Stay Free and AIDs Free” framework and reach the ambitious UN pediatric AIDS treatment targets: to provide 1.6 million children (ages 0-14 years) and 1.2 million adolescents (ages 15-19) living with HIV with antiretroviral therapy by 2018 and that children, adolescents and adults living with HIV know their status and are immediately offered and sustained on affordable and accessible quality treatment to ensure viral load suppression.

Facts about children and HIV in Kenya

In Kenya, there were 26,453 children living with HIV who were not receiving treatment, representing 73 percent coverage, and only 44 percent of HIV-exposed infants received early infant diagnosis in 2015.

In 2015, Kenya reported nearly 7,000 cases of TB in infants and children, with those under age five at greatest risk of having severe forms of TB and dying from the disease.

Facts about children and HIV globally

In 2015, there were globally 1.8 million children ages 0-14 living with HIV. Only 872,500 (48%) of them were accessing treatment. There were also 1.8 million adolescents ages 10-19 living with HIV.

In 2015, some 110,000 children (ages 0-14) and 21,000 adolescents (ages 15-19) died of AIDS-related causes. Eighty-six percent of these deaths occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the same period, 150,000 children and 250,000 adolescents were newly infected with HIV. There were also 160,000 new infections among adolescent girls (ages 10-19), 77% of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2015 only 47 percent of HIV-exposed infants globally received early infant diagnostic services within the first two months of life as recommended.

The Day of the African Child was first established by the Organization of African Unity in 1991 to honor students who participated in the Soweto Uprising in 1976 and to highlight the continuing need for action and education to meet the challenges facing children in Africa.

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To Whom We Belong. 15/5/2017

Published by POZ

Building bridges between faith and HIV communities.

On a recent afternoon, Rob Newells—executive director of AIDS Project of the East Bay (APEB) and an associate minister of Imani Community Church, both in Oakland, California—recounted an experience from the 2016 United States Conference on AIDS (USCA).

“On the first day, there was a faith session, and I wore my little clergy collar—nobody was talking to me,” he remembers. “The rest of the week, while I was on the beach in my bikini, folks were like: ‘Hey, you’re the preacher, right? Can I talk to you about such and such?’ ‘Aren’t you a minister? Lemme talk to you!’”

Not that he was bothered by the beachside chats. But Newells wants people to know he’s “just a normal guy” who is always approachable and doesn’t really separate his roles as a clergyman and as a community member. “APEB is my church; it’s my congregation,” he laughs.

Though APEB takes a sex-positive approach and is not a faith-based organization, Newells considers his leadership at the AIDS group pastoral. “I’m very calm; I don’t freak out,” he says of his style. And while preaching at Imani is his weekend job, it’s important to him to be visible in faith communities as a Black gay man living with HIV.

“If there’s nobody that looks like you in the pulpit,” he says, “then you don’t necessarily know that you’re welcome.”

Newells had just returned to his hometown of Oakland, and to church, when he was diagnosed with HIV, in May 2005. “My first response was: ‘Well, God, what do you want me to do with this?’”

In 2007, he joined Imani, the East Oakland church his parents had started attending a few years earlier; in 2010, he helped start Imani’s first AIDS ministry. “I got up in front of the church to talk about the program I wanted to start and talked about my own experience,” he says. The congregation was receptive. He soon began collaborating with local leaders—and eventually national nonprofits—to build bridges between faith and HIV communities. He also became a minister at Imani in 2011. Since then, word of mouth has brought more gays and lesbians through the doors; Newells looks forward to welcoming more parishioners of trans experience as well.

“We don’t fly a rainbow flag,” Newells muses, “but people know they are comfortable when they come to our church.”

The American Baptist Churches (ABC) USA’s official stance on homosexuality, according to the denomination’s identity statement, is that it is “incompatible with Biblical teaching,” hence the absence of a flag. (This is a considerable warming from the organization’s 1987 assertion that “the unrepentant homosexual has no claim to full acceptance in the Christian community.”) Local churches must conform to some extent, to maintain support from the national body.

However, each congregation is autonomous. The progressive leadership at Imani continues to “do what we do and not mess with the overall ABC folks,” Newells says. At Imani, he has hosted events such as a screening of a film about Black gay health issues and a popular Bible study series on Black LGBT people.

“We know there is a need for it,” he says of the gay subject matter. “People want something around faith—they want to be connected—but a lot of folks are afraid. There is so much ‘church hurt’ out there. And there are still local churches preaching hell and damnation.”

The United States is already known as a highly religious nation. In a 2014 Pew Research Center study on the nation’s religious landscape, 77 percent of respondents reported some religious affiliation. That number fell to 59 percent for LGBT-identified folks in the study.

Further, in a 2013 Pew survey of LGBT people’s attitudes toward religion, high percentages of folks regarded major faith groups as “unfriendly” to LGBT community members. And for many, church hurt—the particular pain that abuse, discrimination or alienation from a religious institution can cause—may come with a crisis of identity.

Within the United States, African Americans stand out as by far the most “faith-full” group by race, with 88 percent of them professing certainty of the existence of God.

“For Black people,” says the Reverend Deneen Robinson of Living Faith Covenant Church in Dallas, “faith is what has unified us through every tragedy—from slavery and our coming to this country to now.” Historically, Black churches were also rare institutions over which Black people themselves had control. 

“You could go to a job and they call you Boy,” explains Bishop Yvette Flunder, in the 2014 documentary The New Black. “Then you come to your church, and your name is Deacon…and you have a place of prominence that the world doesn’t give.”

“For most Black people, faith is not just its own thing; it’s connected to family and friends and status,” adds Robinson, who is also a longtime HIV activist and founder of The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries in which she was ordained. For many, that (at least) 90-minute Sunday-morning engagement is at the center of a thick web of relationships, rituals, trust, protection and norms that binds together a person’s sense of who they are.

“When you are already facing a lot of anger in the United States—when everything seems to alienate you—your connection to your community becomes the most important thing,” he says. “You feel like everybody is angry at you, and the only community that accepts you is your own community, the Muslim community.

“The last thing you want to feel is that even that community is rejecting you.”

“Most people aren’t willing to walk away from all the things that they’re connected to,” Robinson points out. For her, faith was “a context for building my life.” It was what she leaned on when she was diagnosed with HIV in 1991; she had two small daughters at the time and was told she had three to five years to live.

Despite growing up in a conservative Bible Belt Baptist church, Robinson did not take to heart the negative messages about LGBT people. Her great-aunt, whom she called Mama, helped raise her and had no patience for them.

Robinson recalls Mama’s best friend bad-mouthing someone for being gay: “I remember Mama saying, ‘That man is kinder to you than your own sons are to you. You’re not going to say bad things about him to me.’”

This was part of why Robinson never questioned the fact that she was attracted to both women and men—and why she didn’t hesitate to share her HIV diagnosis with anyone important in her life, including her pastor. “It was always reinforced, in my utopia, that God did literally love everyone, and there were no exceptions,” Robinson says. “I’ve realized that’s not what everyone heard.”

***

Using religious doctrine as a cover for social bias is a handy tactic for religious institutions. For Ibrahim, there is religion and there is faith—and his relationship with his faith is untouchable by any human’s bias.

“For people living with HIV, especially those who are Muslim, the first thing that happens to them is, because of religion, they feel they are in quarrel with their faith,” he says, before clarifying the resulting conclusion: “Their connection to God is not governed by a virus. In fact, if anything, that will strengthen their relationship to God.”

Ibrahim has been a community leader in his own right. For several years, under a pseudonym, he wrote a blog for the HIV website TheBody.com, becoming a voice in a busy, largely anonymous online network of HIV-positive and LGBT Muslims seeking information and support. [Editor’s note: Our author edited his blog for more than three years.]

“I understand that for folks who are living with HIV and also have the issue of being LGBT, it becomes more complicated because of how much they hear hate coming from people who are using the guise of religion as a way to promote their own agenda,” Ibrahim says.

“In the end, it’s faith that will help them remember that in Islam, God is described as the most compassionate, the most merciful—just like the core of Christianity is love, the core of Islam is mercy. And the first mercy you have to start with is having mercy for your own self.”

Imam Daayiee Abdullah is one of a tiny handful of openly gay Islamic faith leaders in the world. A Black man who came out in 1969, Abdullah experienced the most tragic period of AIDS history. He considers himself a survivor of the HIV epidemic, though he is not himself living with the virus. He was an early volunteer for Us Helping Us, now the largest Black gay HIV organization in Washington, DC, back when it was run from founder Bishop Kwabena Rainey Cheeks’s living room. 

Abdullah’s connection to the intersecting HIV and faith communities led him to become an imam. In 2002, Abdullah performed the ritual washing, shrouding and Janazah prayer for a Muslim man who died of complications of advanced HIV. His body had been left in the morgue for 30 days. “I always believed that a person has the right to have their religious rites,” he says. After that, community members encouraged him to continue his pastoral work.

In the late 1990s, Abdullah began researching positive interpretations of homosexuality in Islam. He had converted to the faith several years earlier, after discovering that in some sects, being gay was not unusual.

“I came to realize that these different stories and ways in which they were interpreted were based upon the interpreter and the sexual taboos in their society,” he explained. “What was being promoted as impossible in the Quran was actually just bias and prejudice of individuals.”

Around the time that Abdullah was enthusiastically sharing his research, Urooj Arshad was consumed with her own struggles around identity as a young queer Muslim woman originally from Pakistan. “9/11 changed that,” recalls Arshad, a seasoned activist now working at Advocates for Youth, a global sexual and reproductive health policy institute. “The questioning of oneself as Muslim went away because, whether we wanted it or not, more of a sociopolitical identity was emerging.”

Another prevailing concept was that Muslims as a whole were terrible when it came to women and LGBT communities. Right-wing leaders in the United States exploited this idea as part of justifying the war on terror. But Islam, as Arshad points out, encompasses 1.6 billion people worldwide and is not monolithic.

“We absolutely have a right to exist as both identities; no one gets to define that,” says Arshad, who identifies as Muslim but does not practice. “But we get hate from both communities. We get hate from Muslims who don’t think we belong within Islam. And we get hate from mainstream LGBT people who think, ‘Why would we want to fight for a faith that they think is terrible?’”

For several years, starting around 2011, Abdullah operated the Light of Reform Mosque in Washington, DC—a worship space that was not just affirming of LGBT people but also welcoming to all those who wanted a more open environment to practice their faith. “It held a lot of people, particularly a lot of young families, who were looking for a space where their children could grow up uninhibited,” Abdullah says.

A variety of people may be drawn to the affirming mosques and prayer services that are increasingly sprinkled across the Americas, adds Arshad, referencing Canada’s Toronto Unity Mosque, which she said is “inviting and open to anyone who doesn’t want to subscribe to a heteronormative or very rigid space—which is a lot of people! 

“A lot of Muslims in the West are not connecting to mosques anymore,” Arshad notes. “There is this emergence of ‘third spaces’—community meetings and Islamic centers—that are opening up what it means to be Muslim.”

Oakland minister Newells also identifies affirming congregations as a remedy for the church hurt that so many have experienced. “People feel comfortable in that kind of space because you don’t have to put up any guards or wear any masks,” Newells says. “You can just be, and you know people aren’t judging you. You don’t get that at many congregations.”

***

“How do we transform institutions and congregations and gathering places to be more welcoming, so that people don’t leave?”

That question underpins the work of Teo Drake, a spiritual activist who works in multifaith spaces around what he calls “radical welcome.”

Drake was raised working-class Roman Catholic. Again, religion was culture, woven into every aspect of daily life. “I grew up with a lot of chaos, violence and addiction around me,” he recalls, “but when I was a little kid [because of my faith], I had a sense of something that loved and cared for me, that was bigger than I was. I couldn’t quite make sense of it, but it had an intimate feel to it.”

Drake went to Catholic high school and to Catholic college, but as a queer gender-nonconforming person, he found the environment so hostile that he had to get out. While getting sober in a 12-step recovery program, he discovered its sense of spirituality, and it marked the first time he found permission to have a direct relationship with the divine. “In Catholicism, there are so many intermediaries,” he remembers. “This was new.”

Thus began Drake’s “quest to ritualize access to the divine.” He began to find practices that worked for him—breathwork meditation, Buddhism, yoga—that helped him be at home in his body and heal the trauma that lived there.

“As a trans person living with HIV, my body was a war zone,” he says. “I was struggling with what I knew about my essence to be true and then the evidence that the world was telling me, based on my body, that couldn’t possibly be true.” He is a long-term survivor who was diagnosed with HIV before the advent and promise of effective treatment in 1996.

“Having practices and faith traditions helped me physically come home in ways that were gentle and to be in stillness with what I knew to be true about myself,” Drake says. As a result, “I could begin to negotiate a relationship that felt loving, that could take the place of all the evidence that I was getting from the world around me.”

Something Drake has noticed in LGBT communities in recent years is “more space to not always see religion and faith as the enemy but to understand that there are a lot of us who are already here who find it healing.” 

This is particularly true, he says, among people with multiple marginalized identities, including living wit hHIV. It’s “overwhelmingly common,” he says, because one of the biggest tools for survival is having some type of faith practice. For him, working with faith communities around radical welcome is another, complementary side of that coin. 

***

Visibility became a mandate in some corners of the LGBT community following the Pulse nightclub massacre in June 2016, in which 49 people, most of whom were young Latinx queer people, were killed by a disturbed homophobic young Muslim man.

Arshad and other queer Muslim activists cite the tragedy, while horrific, as an opening for building solidarity and understanding at the intersections of Muslim and LGBT identities. (Click here to read an interview with a Pulse survivor for more about the aftermath of the massacre.)

Pulse also galvanized Newells to be even more out in faith communities. “I made a decision not to be the ‘safe gay’ at church,” he explains. “Whenever I stand up to talk about HIV now, I make it very personal.”

Ibrahim is experiencing an almost opposite effect. State-approved racism and xenophobic hatred here in the United States—along with the trauma of violence in his region of origin and numerous other community challenges—have pushed his wish to be more open with his family about both his HIV-positive status and who he loves farther down his priority list.

“I have a very personal life,” he says. “I feel it’s going to be selfish if right at this time I try to push my own personal lifestyle on the community when they are trying to deal with bigger issues.

“Yes, I am part of the community in a way that is, maybe, not for my best interests at this time,” he acknowledges, “but it is definitely because I want to be involved in this community that is facing a lot of hate and a lot of attacks. I have to be part of it. My hope is that once this cloud passes, I’ll be able to fully engage in the community in the way that I want.”

Ibrahim sees inspiration in others in the Muslim community who are able to be more open about who they are. “But we live in a very difficult time in America today.”

“To whom do I belong?” Drake asks. “The answer, particularly within Buddhism, is that I belong to myself. But there is a communal sense of belonging, also, to others, in a loving and held way, that has been huge to my own survival.” 

Drake finds it liberating, he says, to be among “people who wholeheartedly embrace their faith and their practice when dominant culture says we shouldn’t.” To him, it’s similar to being in the company of “people who thrive when dominant culture says we shouldn’t. There is something inherently divine about that.”

 

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3 Ways Black Faith Leaders Address HIV as a Social Justice Issue. 18/8/2017

Published by POZ

In Los Angeles alone, more than 120 churches joined the Day of Unity, promoted by The Black Church & HIV initiative.

AIDS activists have long called on faith leaders to help address and end the epidemic in Black communities across the United States. And on July 23 in Los Angeles, more than 120 local churches took heed and joined forces for Day of Unity, a national event aimed at raising awareness about the impact of HIV on Black America, reports the Los Angeles Sentinel.

The Day of Unity is one of several events created by The Black Church & HIV, a national network of faith leaders, religious institutions and community members. The day gave church leaders the opportunity to recognize HIV as a social justice issue at their pulpits.

“We hope that by preaching messages of hope and grace that we will all come together from different faiths to focus on this issue and with all their (faith leaders) help, we can continue to harness the power of the pulpit to change the course of the HIV epidemic for African Americans,” the Reverend William Francis, who is a part of The Black Church & HIV, told the Sentinal.

The Black Church & HIV initiative, according to its website, addresses HIV and stigma as an issue of social justice by:

  • Conducting faith leader trainings across the 30 U.S. cities with the greatest HIV burden
  • Obtaining formal resolutions from mainline denominations to incorporate HIV messaging into Church activities
  • Integrating HIV-related materials into required course curricula in predominantly Black seminaries.

So far, more than 750 church leaders in 25 cities have been trained, HIV has been incorporated into courses at two seminary schools and four denominations have passed resolutions in support of the initiative.

Next, The Black Church & HIV’s will is hit six more target cities, including New York City, San Francisco, San Diego, Baton Rouge, Tampa and Orlando.

Numbers from the Los Angeles County Department of Health indicate that almost 50,000 people in the city are living with HIV. What’s more, reports the Sentinal, Black men and women are more likely to be living with the virus than their white counterparts, and heterosexual intercourse was responsible for 15 percent of new diagnoses among African Americans.

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In Nairobi, Saving Children’s Lives in Difficult Conditions is a Team Effort. 20/4/2017

Published by AIDSFREE

Volunteers and faith communities join to push HIV testing and treatment for children

NAIROBI, Kenya — It looks like any other meeting in the yard of a church health center — people sitting in plastic lawn chairs, sheltering from the midday sun under the shade of an umbrella tree. But this group gathered in Korogocho is doing nothing short of saving children’s lives and laying the groundwork to one day achieve an AIDS-free generation.

Korogocho reflects one of Nairobi’s greatest challenges. As many as 60 percent of the population of Kenya’s largest city live in “informal settlements.” Collectively, those who call slums like Korogocho home live squeezed together on about 5 percent of the city’s total land mass. Tin shacks bake under the equatorial sun. Scavenging in trash piles often means the difference between a full belly and an empty one.

The men, women and young people gathered in the yard on the edge of Korogocho help to stop the spread of HIV among children. The AIDSFree Project, funded by USAID through PEPFAR, has mobilized community health volunteers, religious leaders and youth leaders to work as a team of “Pediatric Champions.” These Pediatric Champions strengthen access to, and demand for, pediatric HIV care and treatment services in Nairobi.

It takes a network of community health workers, youth and religious leaders to reach places where children are at risk. The people who make up this team represent the determination of these crowded, informal communities not to buckle to HIV despite the numerous challenges their communities face. AIDSFree’s impact can be felt with every interaction these volunteers have with community members, providing HIV prevention messages and urging HIV testing, treatment and adherence to life-sustaining medication.

These Pediatric Champions meet at a faith-based health facility known as Redeemed Gospel Health Center once a month to talk about their successes and struggles, and to think through the problems they encounter.

One woman stands up to describe a family resisting life-saving treatment because their neighbors are shunning them for being HIV positive. Another talks about finding a mother and her newborn on her neighborhood rounds — the baby too sick and weak to nurse. Her immediate referral to a health center for testing and treatment led to a positive HIV test result and the baby was initiated on antiretroviral therapy that likely saved his life.

“I have young girls coming to me asking me what to do [to stay healthy],” one Swahili-speaking pastor said. “I want them to be safe.”

Another pastor who introduced herself as Layla earned affirmation for her work with commercial sex workers in her neighborhood, encouraging them to stay protected and seek treatment, which keeps them healthier and helps to reduce risk for other families and children in the community.

“Community health workers are the backbone of this effort,” says Nkatha Njeru, AIDSFree Program Manager with IMA World Health. They are members of the community who have formal training in community health interventions. But they are not alone.

One of the young men, a youth leader under the umbrella tree rose from his seat to talk about his recent experience speaking with peers in his mosque. “Because, as youth, we got the chance to speak in mosque, and we promoted testing for HIV, the effect was immediate,” the young man said. “Everyone wanted to get tested right then.”

In areas like Korogocho, the religious leaders now gathered under this tree are as critical as CHWs to IMA’s work. As many as 8 in 10 people on the African continent practice some form of religion. Recognizing their potential to influence behavior change and social norms, AIDSFree trained Christian and Muslim leaders to become Pediatric Champions. These Champions work through their congregations to increase community knowledge about pediatric HIV care and treatment services, building demand and access.

In addition, the AIDSFree Project recently launched khutbah and sermon guides to provide religious leaders in Nairobi’s slums with messaging rooted in sacred texts, explaining why pediatric HIV testing and treatment are a critical, and even a faithful, act. Both the National Council of Churches of Kenya and the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims have praised these religious guides. AIDSFree encouraged religious leaders to use them in their congregations beginning in September 2016.

Religious leaders have been tremendously effective at connecting people in need to services. For example, in December 2016 religious leaders were credited with making 199 referrals for HIV testing and services, more than youth leaders and community health workers combined.

Part of the reason for their impact is that faith leaders see far more people in a given time than community health workers or other volunteers working door-to-door might. But Njeru thinks it’s something more: “They have standing in the community, and people trust them.”

Late in the meeting, the group stands to conclude. The sun still burns on the red clay and the acrid smell of burning trash still wafts on the air. But these volunteers — Muslim, Christian, men, women — remain united and determined to create an AIDS-free generation.

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UN Discussion Focuses on Women, HIV and Property Rights. 21/3/2017

Published by OIKOUMENE

“She is HIV positive too. No need to inherit her late husband’s title deed. She will die soon and leave it anyway.”

These man’s thoughts during his brother’s funeral were used by Jane Ng’ang’a, national coordinator, International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV (INERELA+) Kenya Chapter, to push the debate on property and inheritance rights linked to HIV. The discussion was held during the 61st Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), on 16 March, at the headquarters of UNAIDS, in New York.

The panel was co-organized by the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA), Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, UNAIDS, Salesians of Don Bosco, and the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations.

Ng’ang’a spoke about her research on property and inheritance rights, sharing some true stories on how violations of property and inheritance rights are linked to HIV, hoping to encourage advocacy for religious leaders and faith-based organizations (FBOs) on such issues.

In some places in the world, women are prevented from holding jobs or from inheriting properties. When husbands or parents die, women are often impeded from inheriting or owning property. And women living with HIV are in an even more precarious situation - along with their children.

Even if under the law it is possible for women, theoretically, to control property, the property to which they would be entitled is often confiscated by the family members of the husband or by the male family members of the widow herself.

For Archbishop Bernardito Auza, permanent representative of the Holy See Mission to the UN, this is not only a problem of law, but “it is a problem of how women have access to the fiduciary structure,” he said.

“Therefore, defending the dignity of women involves then upholding and legally securing the right to own and inherit property through reforming laws wherever it is needed and making them practical and effective on the ground,” stated Auza.

Sheila Dinotshe Tlou, director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa, was also part of the panel. She believes that FBOs themselves are already acting as champions in rights education.

“Half the time we have very good laws, but people don’t know these laws,” said Tlou. “We are all called to be champions, to really look at our communities and ask what are the issues that we can take to any world leader, whether it is a president or a minister,” she said.

Rev. Pauline Njiru, regional coordinator for Eastern Africa for the WCC’s Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (EHAIA), shared some stories of women whose lives have been impacted by property and inheritance rights violations and the link between such violations and HIV. She stressed it is important “to raise awareness and overcome dispossession, and barriers to inheritance rights for women living with HIV.”

Rev. Thomas Brennan, from the Salesians of Don Bosco and moderator of the panel, hoped faith-based leaders “would now take up the charge to be able to educate people about HIV, women’s rights and look at the way that we can motivate our local communities to be able to do the changes that are necessary.”

“We need more champions. We need more people who say ‘I will make this my cause, because I believe that part of my faith is to reach out to those who are most marginalized,” he said.

“So we look to tell our communities that they have to help with the systemic change that is necessary to allow women to have all of their rights respected. And in instances where land is being taken away, that they not have that discrimination,” concluded Brennan.

Dr Isabel Phiri, WCC deputy general secretary, closed the panel affirming that “in terms of methodology, education is key. Education at all levels, for men, women, children, lawmakers and for the society in general, so they have a clear understanding of what is at stake when it comes to women’s issues”, she said.

In 2015 that there are still an estimated 17.8 million women living with HIV (15 or older), according to UN Women. As 51% of the global number of the adults living with HIV, women have been particularly affected by HIV and AIDS, and often do not receive the same level of attention as other demographics.

In many parts of the world, women living with HIV are often excluded from holding a job, inheriting and controlling property, and otherwise exercising economic independence, factors contributing to the true economic empowerment of women which subsequently has positive effects on development outcomes.

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Jamaican Women Inspired to Educate Communities About Gender-Based Violence, HIV. 16/2/2017

Publishedd by OIKOUMENE

After learning about the link between HIV and sexual and gender-based violence, the Rev. Neila Ingram said what was on the minds of many women religious leaders: “So now I have work to go and do in my community and church.”

Ingram, an African Methodist Episcopal Church pastor, was one of about 30 women who attended a SAVE - or Safer Practices, Access to Treatment and Nutrition, Voluntary Testing and Counselling and Empowerment - workshop offered by the Jamaica Council of Churches in partnership with the World Council of Churches and the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with and Affected by HIV.

The workshop, held 6-8 February in St Ann, Jamaica, aimed to raise awareness among women religious leaders about HIV and AIDS and its relation to sexual and gender-based violence. The training is designed to motivate action to address these issues within local congregations and faith communities.

By the end of the workshop, the women said they were inspired not only to work together but to go forth locally as true carriers of hope and agents of change.

“It was a very moving and spiritual experience for me quite separate from the knowledge gained,” reflected Rev. Jean Fairweather Wilson of the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

Eliminating stigma and discrimination within their congregations and faith communities became a top priority for the participants, including Rev. Tara Tyme-Campbell of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. “I am now resolved to go forth and do what I can so all God’s people can have life and have it more abundantly,” she said.

Next step: empowering the community

SAVE workshop participants committed to initiate and engage programmes in and or on behalf of their member church or faith community in support of reducing sexual and gender-based violence and HIV and AIDS.

The Jamaican Council of Churches (JCC) will continue to communicate with its member churches to share action plans and request timelines.

“The aim of this is to allow the JCC to support the work of member churches and faith communities as well as to seek and share resources and best practices," explained JCC general secretary Rev. Gary Harriott in a letter to JCC member churches.

“The JCC will prepare an evaluation and monitoring schedule and share with member churches and faith communities,” he wrote.

In connection with the SAVE workshop, the JCC also launched the Thursdays in Black campaign in support of ending violence against women and girls. The launch was held on 9 February at the Webster Memorial United Church in Kingston.

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Gathering in Kenya Explores Eliminating HIV Stigma Through Love and Dialogue. 9/2/2017

Published by AFRICANEWSROOM

More than 120 religious and spiritual leaders, health workers and young people met on 7-8 February to focus on strengthening the fight against stigma in the HIV response in Kenya.

More than 120 religious and spiritual leaders, health workers and young people met on 7-8 February to focus on strengthening the fight against stigma in the HIV response in Kenya. They were joined by representatives from the Kenyan government, civil society organizations, networks of people living with HIV, and development partners for an event in Nairobi. The meeting, “Faith on the Fast Track: Eliminating Sigma and Discrimination Through Love and Dialogue” aimed to assess the impact of the Framework for Dialogue methodology which has been implemented in several countries since 2013. The event was organized by the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV Kenya (INERELA+ Kenya) and the World Council of Churches - Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA), with the support of United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), among others.

 

"The Framework for Dialogue is a tool which emerged as an outcome of the High Level Religious Leaders Summit on HIV held in Netherlands in 2010 to support systematic, inclusive and sustained dialogue and collaboration between religious leaders and persons living with HIV at national levels,” explained Francesca Merico, WCC-EAA HIV Campaign coordinator. "It provides a platform for joint action.”

The framework has opened doors for people living with HIV to work with religious leaders, reflected Jackie Wambui, a member of the National Empowerment Network of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya. “They now have a guidance on HIV response. I believe they will create a platform for adolescents and young people living with HIV to voice their concerns.”

The framework has also created a lot of excitement, and religious leaders are now showing interest in the HIV response, noted Abdalla Kamwana, member of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims and INERELA+ Kenya chairperson. “If we continue with the same tempo, we will achieve zero stigma and discrimination. The dialogues bring in people from diverse backgrounds, different religions and cultures and people at different levels of leadership in faith communities. This alone enriches the dialogues.”

The participants were introduced to the work carried out in Kenya under this framework. Following the first dialogue, which was held in Kenya in 2015, joint actions between the religious leaders and persons living with HIV were established. The actions, namely, breaking the silence about HIV stigma, facilitating dialogues at different levels within faith-based institutions, development partners and government institutions, and advocacy for safer and healthier living, formed interventions geared towards reducing HIV stigma and discrimination by faith leaders and networks of persons living with HIV who worked very closely with INERELA+ Kenya.

Following these interventions, Jane Ng’ang’a the Programme Officer of INERELA + Kenya noted that some of the achievements realized within two years of using the framework include Kenya faith sector response to HIV mainstreaming into the national response, dialogues started in five counties, religious leaders taking the front line in the fight against stigma and discrimination and members of congregations beginning to support the initiatives started. A major highlight in this work has been the engagement of men in the faith communities in the HIV response.

Religious leaders are the first point of entry for people infected or affected by HIV. Their voice in the HIV response must be heard

At a practical level, the participants were able to hear from young persons living with HIV who have benefitted from the interventions of the framework through INERELA + Kenya. "My life has been wonderful since I joined INERELA+ Kenya. I feel the church has embraced me for who I am. I have achieved more spiritually and I am proud of who I am,” said Brian.

A gallery walk, where eight interventions in the framework were showcased, provided insights on how the framework has been a game changer in the HIV response by faith communities in Kenya. Acknowledging this, a person living with HIV in the meeting noted that this was evident in the right language being used by all participants and presenters in reference to persons living with HIV in the meeting.

In a session aimed at introducing religious leaders to HIV testing, the participants were invited to join the WCC campaign “Leading by Example: Religious Leaders and HIV Testing”, which encourages members of the faith communities to lead by example through being tested. The meeting also provided an opportunity for participants to learn what the National AIDS Control Council of Kenya was doing, as well as understand the HIV policy environment in the country.

Participants participated in the impact assessment of the framework being conducted by WCC-EAA. "The exercise will contribute to assessing the impact of HIV response outcomes in the country,” said Dr David Barstow, president of EMPACT Africa, and consultant with WCC-EAA.

More quotes from the consultation:

"Religious leaders are the first point of entry for people infected or affected by HIV. Their voice in the HIV response must be heard." Jantine Jacobi, UNAIDS Kenya director.

"The story of HIV response cannot be complete without the faith leaders playing their role.” Rosemary Mburu, executive director of WACI Health.

 

"Until the last person lives with dignity, the work of religious leaders is not finished," Dr John Kitui, Christian Aid Kenya director.

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New License Could Improve Tuberculosis Treatment for People Living With HIV. 25/1/2017

Published by OIKOUMENE

ew license could improve tuberculosis treatment for people living with HIV

Medicines get sorted before administration to patients in Port au Prince, Haiti. 

The World Council of Churches - Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) applauds the first licensing agreement related to tuberculosis, announced on 25 January by the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) and Johns Hopkins University. The agreement will facilitate the clinical development of sutezolid, a tuberculosis (TB) drug candidate. The antibiotic sutezolid, in combination with other drugs, could be used to more effectively treat drug-sensitive and drug-resistant tuberculosis.

In welcoming the agreement, Francesca Merico, WCC-EAA HIV Campaign coordinator, highlighted the fact that “Tuberculosis remains the leading cause of death in people living with HIV – the burden is particularly high in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, and we welcome the fact that this is a world-wide licence.”

WHO reports that people living with HIV are 17-22 times more likely to develop TB than HIV-negative people. TB is the most common illness among people living with HIV, including among those taking antiretroviral treatment, and it is the major cause of HIV-related deaths. Sub-Saharan Africa bears the burden of the dual epidemic, accounting for approximately 75% of all deaths from HIV-associated TB in 2015.

Pat Zerega, chair of the WCC-EAA Access to Treatment Working Group, added: “All these deaths are avoidable! TB is a treatable and curable disease, but today's TB treatments are too complicated to administer and can be toxic and we are facing an increase in drug-resistant TB due to people not taking the full treatment because of pill burden or people being infected with drug-resistant TB.”

“The world needs new and better regimens to treat TB” says Astrid Berner-Rodoreda, HIV policy advisor for the German Protestant development agency Bread for the World. “Today’s tuberculosis drugs are inadequate to tackle the TB pandemic. This licensing agreement gives hope to accelerate the development of much-needed TB treatments that are simpler and affordable.”

The MPP negotiates with pharmaceutical companies to share their HIV medicine patents with the pool, and then licenses generic manufacturers to facilitate the production of affordable HIV, TB and Hepatitis C medicines well-adapted for use in resource-poor settings. To date, the MPP has signed agreements with eight patent holders for twelve HIV antiretrovirals, an HIV technology platform, one hepatitis C direct-acting antiviral and one tuberculosis treatment. Its generic partners have distributed four billion doses of low-cost medicines to 125 countries.

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, an ecumenical initiative of the World Council of Churches, is a global network of churches and related organizations committed to campaigning together on common concerns for justice and human dignity. Current campaign issues are HIV and AIDS, food security and sustainable agriculture.

HIV-positive TB cases

1.2 million people living with HIV estimated to have fallen ill with TB in 2015.

Deaths
0.4 million people living with HIV estimated to have died from TB, a preventable and curable disease.

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Faith News 2016

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Reflections on a ‘Horror Campaign’ to Draw Attention to the Global Impact of HIV and AIDS in the Netherlands. Maybe the Campaign by the Aidsfonds Wasn’t all that Bad? 20/12/2016

Published by RELIGIONFACTOR

On International Human Solidarity Day 2016 a blog post by Brenda Bartelink. Recently, the Dutch Aidsfonds stopped a confrontational campaign on the rise of HIV-infections and deaths worldwide after a complaint by a prominent Dutch lawyer that this campaign unduly stigmatized people living with HIV and AIDS. In today’s post Brenda Bartelink argues that there is more at stake than the stigmatization of people living with HIV in the Netherlands. To broaden the discussion, she compares the Aidsfonds campaign to a campaign that was developed by religious leaders in Sub Saharan Africa -now implemented worldwide- as an example of how the usual dilemma’s surrounding such campaigns can be overcome. 

The controversy
On World AIDS Day, December first of this year, the Dutch organization Aidsfonds (Aids Fund) launched its new campaign ‘The virus threatens to win’ (Het virus dreigt te winnen). In the week after people in the Netherlands could listen to radio spots and watch TV ads in which HIV had a voice that said: ‘I don’t discriminate, I am a lady killer’ and ‘I kill over 300 children each day in an instance’. Despite the originality of the campaign- making the HIV virus an actor- in the following days the campaign was fiercely criticized. Prominent lawyer Oscar Hammerstein, who is living with HIV himself, argued that a campaign that sounds like a horror film stigmatizes people living with HIV in the Netherlands; the interest group for people living with HIV in the Netherlands, HVN (HIV Vereniging Nederland), coined it a ‘horror campaign’ which was quickly picked up in social and other media. Aidsfonds subsequently decided to terminate the campaign.

In a widely viewed late night news show, Oscar Hammerstein provided further explanation to the critiques of the campaign made by himself and HVN. He explained how hard he and others had fought to tackle the stigma related to HIV and AIDS in the Netherlands, while this campaign linked HIV directly with murder. “Because the virus is transmitted through people and not through the air, this campaign suggests that people living with HIV are killers of others”. He continued that the campaign erroneously suggests that HIV and AIDS is only killing people, while over the past decades huge steps have been made in the treatment of HIV. People now do not die of the virus but have a life expectancy similar to those who live without the virus. In response, Aidsfonds argued that HIV and AIDS continue to be such a huge problem to people around the world that continued attention is needed. In fact, the very reason for Aidsfonds to start their campaign is that there is a rise in numbers of infections around the world, while funds for tackling HIV and AIDS are decreasing. With a strong and confrontational campaign, Aidsfonds hoped to challenge people and motivate them to continue to support programmes and organizations that fight the disease. Because HVN and Hammerstein were seen to be part of the constituency of Aidsfonds, the organisation took the critique seriously and terminated the campaign.

HIV and AIDS and stigma
While ‘AIDS does not discriminate,’ HIV and AIDS are linked to discrimination in various ways. The argument of the stigmatizing effects of communication on HIV and AIDS is not a novel reflection in Dutch approaches to HIV and AIDS. In fact, since HIV and AIDS were ‘discovered’ in the 1980s, people living with HIV and AIDS in the Netherlands have played crucial roles in developing programmes and prevention campaigns that do not stigmatize. However, the argument of stigmatization, as it came across in the media included some serious blind spots that were not brought into the conversation. In a powerful essay entitled ‘Beyond Bare Life’ (2007) anthropologist Jean Comaroff discusses how discourses on HIV and AIDS have been produced along the lines of an orientalist perception of sexuality in Africa. Referring to the work of Cameroonian philosopher Achilles Mbembe, Comaroff argues that Western depictions of HIV and AIDS have reaffirmed the ‘absolute otherness’ of Africa. Comaroff particularly critiqued the constructions of Africa as a horrific, deteriorating continent while ignoring how HIV and AIDS is impacting people’s everyday lives. Others have argued along similar lines, demonstrating that colonial images of a sexualised African other have been revived in the response to HIV and AIDS. Comaroff particularly criticized the pre-occupation with terrorism in US foreign policy after 11 September 2001, while the tremendous impact of HIV and AIDS in Sub Saharan Africa was neglected. Sub Saharan Africa, she concludes, is an ‘axis of irrelevance’ in international policy.

While the focus in the discussion around the campaign was not on Sub Saharan Africa but on ‘the world’, with particular mentioning of Russia and the Ukraine, the perspective put forward by Comaroff is nonetheless relevant to the argument I am making here. In the critiques from the HVN and Hammerstein, no matter how relevant and true, we can see the logic of irrelevance at work. Their argument is based on how the campaign stigmatizes people living with HIV in the Netherlands, but neglects the fact that people around the world are still very much affected by HIV and AIDS and often lack the means to properly protect themselves against the virus and the disease. However, while the Aidsfonds campaign intended to make the Dutch general public aware that HIV and AIDS is not an issue of ‘irrelevance’, they did not have the power to debunk this critique. This lack of power reveals another logic is at work in these discussions.

Questioning problematizing approaches in development
Aidsfonds states on their website that the campaign has been tested among a selection of people in their constituency and the general public in the Netherlands, according to the rules for marketing campaigns in the Netherlands. However they also argue that it was a campaign particularly focussed on addressing the impact of HIV and AIDS worldwide (and not in the Netherlands). This raises the question, however, whether the campaign would have been critiqued for being stigmatizing if HIV and AIDS did not directly affecting people in the Netherlands. What would have happened if Aidsfonds had tested this campaign with the people for whom they are campaigning? What are the views from Russia, from Ukraine, from African countries? How would people living with HIV and AIDS living in societies where the health system in not as good as in the Netherlands respond to the argument put forward by Hammerstein and the HVN that the life expectancy of people living with HIV and AIDS is similar to those living without? Most development campaigns focus on concerns that do not affect people in the Netherlands directly. This regularly results in campaigns that can be coined as ‘poverty porn’ (a recent example of such a campaign by Save the Children can be seen here). Through the controversy around the Aidsfonds campaign, it becomes apparent that in the context of international development, issues such as HIV and AIDS can be framed in ways that are unacceptable in the Netherlands. The question is of course why we represent people living with HIV and AIDS outside the Netherlands in ways that we would never dream of representing the Dutch (or the English, Australian or American for that matter)? Is this only because the views of those who are directly affected remain unheard (which is in itself problematic as it is), or is it perhaps also because people from outside of Europe or what is generally seen as the ‘west’ are somehow seen as having less dignity?

Global power relations
Arturo Escobar argued back in 1995 that development cooperation had divided the world into categories of the ‘developed’ and the ‘less developed’, ‘rich’ and ‘poor’, ‘North’ and ‘South’. Critical research by Escobar and others has demonstrated that development often includes stigmatization and therefore might hinder finding a solution to the very problem it claims to address (i.e. turning around growing inequalities in the world). While scholars, practitioners, activists and policymakers are all aware of this paradox (many development professionals in the Netherlands have been trained in institutions that have integrated critical theory in their curriculum, for example), it has proven difficult to tackle the dichotomies according to which the field of development is organized and sustained by capital flows. In addition, in societies such as the Netherlands, the rather generous support for development has been crumbling, influenced by government budget-cuts for development, nativist tendencies in politics and among the general public, coupled with an increasing cynical reception of development as ineffective and corrupt. Within this context of diminishing public and private support bases, some development organisations choose to communicate based on strong and often stereotypical images.

While stigmatisation and stereotyping in development marketing has been critiqued by platforms such as ID-leaks and the World’s Best News in the Netherlands, and Radi-AID, Africa is a Country, CIHA-blog internationally, organisations continue to fall for the temptation of the short-term support the shock effect of poverty porn creates. The Aidsfonds campaign, for example, did not include critical information on the successes that have been achieved in the response to HIV and AIDS over the past decades, as journalist Ralf Bodelier has argued. While HIV infections still occur and might be rising, there are successes in halting the disease and preventing people that live with HIV from dying of AIDS, achieved by the tremendous efforts of local, national and international organisations, including Aidsfonds. This in turn plays right into the cynicism about international development and its inability to solve problems effectively. Therefore, while Aidsfonds could have taken the opportunity to debunk the critique of its campaign by pointing out how the critics failed to address the realities of people living with HIV and AIDS referred to by the campaign, I suggest that their own problematizing approach made them powerless to do so. Is it possible that the reaction of Aidsfonds would have been different if Aidsfonds had indeed generated broad support for their fundraising campaign by engaging relevant people and organisational partners in the countries where they work? Instead, the campaign and the discussion afterwards ended up confirming invisible (but very real) boundaries between the axis of relevance and irrelevance, which are in turn firmly rooted in the power relations between developed and underdeveloped, North and South, rich and poor.

Suffering and hope
How do we raise awareness of HIV and AIDS, centralizing the dignity of people with the aim of transforming unequal power relations? Awareness of how structural inequalities are entangled with various forms of stigmatization, even within the institutions that aim to overcome these, apparently is not enough. Perhaps this has to do with the focus of public health campaigns (whether in the context of development or not) on preventing or relieving human suffering. Anthropologist Joel Robbins offers two approaches that have the potential to shift the ‘development frame’ that centralizes a suffering other. He first of all suggests that when problems are addressed it should be done in such a way that ‘we do not primarily provide cultural context so as to offer lessons in how lives are lived differently elsewhere, but in which we offer accounts of trauma that make us and our readers feel in our bones the vulnerability we as human beings all share’. Secondly, he advocates for a more explicit focus ‘on how people living in different societies strive to create the good in their lives’. This focus on the good can include devoting attention to empathy, care, ethics and hope.

An HIV and AIDS campaign that has integrated elements of both is the SAVE approach developed by INERELA+, the international network of religious leaders living with or personally affected by HIV. Initiated by Gideon Byamugisha, an Anglican priest from Uganda who was the first priest who publicly announced his HIV positive status, INERELA+ has tremendous experience in bringing the ‘realities of HIV and AIDS’ into conversation in societies around the world, while empowering people who live with HIV and AIDS. A key-element in the approach is that people, regardless of their background, realize their own vulnerability towards HIV. ‘HIV does not discriminate’ is the message these religious leaders convey. Their unique positions and experiences as leaders and people living with HIV and AIDS allowed them to develop prevention campaigns that were more inclusive and less stigmatizing. The SAVE approach contains an acronym that stands for Safer Practices, Access to treatment, Voluntary counselling and testing, Empowering marginalized and vulnerable groups. Embedded in the slogan ‘Together we can SAVE lives’, it also contains a message of hope towards the future. While the SAVE approach is focussed on prevention, and not on communication about HIV and AIDS for fundraising purposes, it demonstrates that more sensitive and inclusive communication focussing on human suffering as well as hope is possible.

Towards a world without HIV and AIDS

INERELA+ is not the only organisation that has developed more inclusive approaches that tackles stigma on many levels. The video ‘Love a Positive Life’ from the Link Up project of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance is another example. Yet, the approach chosen by INERELA leads me to make another point: It is about time that we recognize the leadership of people living with HIV and AIDS around the world in how to communicate about vulnerability, suffering and hope in ways that empower rather than stigmatize. And while the interest in HIV and AIDS in the context of (Dutch) development policy has decreased in favour of problems such as early marriage, gender based violence and sexual health, it is more important than ever that organisations communicate about these complex and important issues in ways that affirm our common humanity, both in terms of what concerns us as well as in how we imagine our future. On December 1st, the day that Aidsfonds launched its campaign, an HIV and AIDS monument (ironically enough partially funded by Aidsfonds) was unveiled in Amsterdam. The monument is a giant abacus with red glass beads, representing a ‘countdown to the moment when HIV and AIDS become a thing of the past’. According to the text on the website of the Aidsmonument, it is ‘a symbol of solidarity and a beacon of hope for everyone living with HIV today’. I hope that any future campaigns to raise support for HIV and AIDS around the world will indeed appeal to our solidarity and hope for a world without HIV and AIDS.

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Intervention by the World Council of Churches - Ecumenical advocacy Alliance. 7/12/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

39th UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board meeting, 6 December, 2016

The World Council of Churches-Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, welcomes this important discussion on paediatric HIV treatment, care and support because it highlights one of the most significant gaps in the HIV response as well as the very ambitious global target, agreed at the high level meeting, to double the number of children on treatment by 2018.

A key aspect of addressing the paediatric gap will require giving greater attention to strengthening community engagement, including the faith community. Communities are often best situated to define and respond to the evolving needs of children throughout their lives. In many countries faith –based organisations have much experience of providing, economic and social support through both service delivery and outreach programmes. A key element of the Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free initiative must be to ensure that community structures have sufficient human and financial resources and that linkages to facilities are strengthened.

As with adults, HIV-related stigma and discrimination are widespread against children and adolescents living with HIV and their parents. It can cause severe mental distress which prevents them from learning about their HIV status, adhering to treatment and from attending school and accessing other services. The WCC-Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance welcomes the commitment in the Political Declaration for the creation of safe and non-discriminatory learning environments, but calls on governments to work with all key stakeholders to ensure that this is achieved also in health facilities as well as more broadly in society as a whole. In addition, we call on UNAIDS to work with partners, including FBOs, to undertake additional research on the effects of stigma and discrimination on children and adolescents living with and affected by HIV and AIDS.

To ensure that the Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free Initiative is successful in doubling the number of children living with HIV on treatment by 2018, it will need to have a strong accountability framework. This will increase the likelihood that the needs of children affected by HIV will not be forgotten even if children themselves don’t have a voice in fora such as this.

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Statement on Agenda Item 6 on Intellectual Property and Access to HIV Treatment. 7/12/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

39th UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board, 7 December 2016

The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Stop AIDS Alliance, and the WCC-Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance welcome the UNAIDS report on intellectual property and access to HIV treatment as well as the Report of the High Level Panel on Access to medicines. As the reports note, ensuring access to essential drugs like ARVs is a key component of the rights to health and to life that are protected by international law. We believe these rights and the corresponding duty to protect public health should play a more prominent role in the intellectual property regime, as agreed by TRIPS members in Doha in 2001.

The 1995 TRIPS agreement placed numerous roadblocks on the path between newly available life-saving ARVs and the vast majority of people who needed them. Over time, the actions of UNAIDS, treatment activists, some governments, and others have succeeded in removing or working around some of these barriers. But it has been a slow, imperfect, and incomplete process, leading to many avoidable deaths.

And although the IP situation today has markedly improved relative to ARVs, several challenges do remain. As many speakers today have noted, those challenges include insufficient use of TRIPS flexibilities, new, more restrictive TRIPS plus measures, the limited scope of voluntary licensing agreements, a lack of transparency on drug R&D and patents, and insufficient innovation for small or unprofitable markets.

In other words, we are not done fighting the battle for universal access to medicines, including ARVs. We therefore call for continued efforts in the following four areas:

First, we must improve the ability of low and middle-income states to use all TRIPS flexibilities and to oppose pressure from trading partners to enact TRIPS-plus measures. We also need greater transparency around countries’ implementation of these flexibilities, as well as the TRIPS-plus provisions in bilateral or free trade agreements.

Second, we should aim to increase the scope of voluntary licensing agreements to cover all ARVs and all low and middle-income countries. As the report notes, “by 2020 the majority of people living with HIV will reside in middle-income countries.” But some of those countries, especially upper-middle-income states, are already excluded or may transition out of such licensing agreements, leaving ARVs unaffordable and inaccessible.

Third, we need to heighten transparency on various elements of the intellectual property regime, including the true costs of drug research and development and the patent status and prices of existing drugs.

Finally, we support continued investigation of parallel drug research and development systems that are delinked from the size and profitability of the market. Such systems could generate open knowledge innovation for drugs and formulations not being prioritized by private industry, such as pediatric formulations for HIV, TB, and other life-threatening diseases.

In closing, UNAIDS has long been a powerful driver in the access to medicines movement. In line with the HLM commitments and the UNAIDS strategy, we urge the PCB to continue its support for UNAIDS’ active leadership on this issue as an integral part of reaching 90-90-90.

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World AIDS Day: Unexpected Allies in the Fight Against HIV. 1/12/2016

Published by THEHILL

Some people are born with everything stacked against them. But this story doesn’t end the way you think it does, in large part due to some unexpected U.S. allies.

Lumba is a 7th grader who dreams of becoming a lawyer, but in truth, she’s a girl living in immense poverty in Mwandi, Zambia. She is albino, which causes skin sensitivity to the sun and eyesight problems. She is orphaned because both her parents died of AIDS and her elderly grandmother struggles to provide the basics — enough food, safe water, and school fees for Lumba and her siblings. 

 

Add to that, Lumba is living with HIV. But Lumba has a world of support from some unexpected allies, and among them you will find the late Senator Jesse Helms, who may be just about the last person you’d expect. When it comes to the strong, compassionate and influential voices who became committed to directing federal funds to help those suffering from HIV/AIDS, Senator Helms was one.

There was a lack of compassion for many infected with HIV in the early days of the crisis, and sadly some of this came from parts of the Christian community. Conservative leaders in government wondered why it was necessary to spend taxpayer money on what many considered a preventable sexually transmitted disease.

So it is easy to forget that people of faith were also instrumental in helping those same government leaders see the need and Biblical calling to respond to the devastation of HIV/AIDS.

For years, conservative Christian leaders worked hard to educate those in their circles about the crisis, with a Scriptural focus on the compassion of Jesus. Countless conversations between leaders and policymakers ultimately helped make a life-saving difference. In 2002, the Christian organization, Samaritan’s Purse, organized a conference in Washington, DC; participants came from 87 countries to discuss what could be done to help those affected by a virus that had become a death sentence. Among the guest speakers was Senator Helms, who had reversed his position on federal funding precisely because he received spiritual guidance and advice from Christian leaders he respected.

Unlikely voices united. Conservative and liberal Christians, progressive humanitarians (of many other faiths or no faith at all), and medical groups urged President George W. Bush to take groundbreaking action on AIDS, which the President called a “work of mercy beyond all current international efforts to help the people of Africa.” The result was PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. PEPFAR’s results have been staggering: the number of people on life-saving medicines for HIV grew from 50,000 in 2002 to 9.5 million in 2015.

Faith-based organizations (FBOs) are at the forefront of HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. The hallmark of our response to this pandemic has been effectiveness, compassion and success. Changing attitudes and approaches within communities of faith where HIV/AIDS prevalence was rapidly increasing reduced stigma and contributed significantly to healing. The devastation of HIV/AIDS has been mitigated and vulnerable groups have been empowered.

Which means in 2016, unlike her parents’ generation which was decimated by AIDS, Lumba has access to life-saving antiretroviral therapy. Her death sentence is now a treatable condition. Lumba receives care through the U.S. government-supported work of the U.S.-based Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) and the Mwandi Mission Hospital.

CMMB through its “Healthier Lives Worldwide” project is one of many FBOs to provide long-term, community-based health and development aid to the millions around the world affected by poverty and unequal access to healthcare. Community health workers help families improve their financial situations, get adequate nutrition, make sure girls attend school, meet medical needs including HIV treatment, and have access to clean water - necessary for anti-retroviral drugs to be effective.

CMMB focuses on mothers and children as agents of change. Their wellbeing not only elevates families, it lifts up friends, neighbors and whole villages. Which means it is critical, not just to Lumba, but to the future of her community, that she thrives and just maybe, achieves that dream of law school someday.

But until we attain an AIDS-free generation, our work is not done. The next step is continuing the work of PEPFAR’s DREAMS initiative (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe), which focuses on a hard-to-reach demographic: adolescent girls and young women. This data-driven, U.S. government investment challenges the faith community to once again examine attitudes, practices and stereotypes – our own and those of young women — to further reduce transmission. One thing we know, an AIDS-free world is within reach.
 
Bruce Wilkinson is the President and CEO of Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB), a global health organization with over one hundred years of advancing health and human wellbeing. Prior to CMMB, Bruce spent many years in leadership roles in the development sector, most recently as Regional Vice President for Southern Africa Region at World Vision International, as well as Chief of Party for the RAPIDS HIV/AIDS initiative in Zambia, funded by PEPFAR.

Garrett Grigsby is the Executive Director of Christian Connections for International Health, a network of Christian organizations providing health and preventive services across the globe. He served as the Director of the USAID Center for Faith-based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush and on the staff of the U.S. Senate for more than a decade.

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Lead by Example: Get HIV Tested. 30/11/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

Religious leaders are getting tested for HIV in hopes of inspiring others across the world to seek testing, too. Increasing the number of people receiving HIV testing is vitally important in the effort to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

Less than half of people living with HIV know their HIV status, according to UNAIDS. Some don’t know the facts about HIV transmission or treatment; others don’t have access to the test.

But many are afraid of the stigma they may encounter just by getting tested — a stigma the World Council of Churches (WCC) is hoping to lift with the campaign “Leading by Example: Religious Leaders and HIV Testing.” The campaign will begin on 1 Dec. - World AIDS Day - with a morning prayer service at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland.

“To end HIV and AIDS, we have to overcome the stigma of HIV testing,” said Francesca Merico, HIV campaign coordinator for the WCC-EAA. “By getting tested for HIV, you aren’t making a statement about morality — you’re taking care of your health.”

As of June 2016, 18.2 million people — less than half of people living with HIV — were receiving treatment, according to UNAIDS.

At the Ecumenical Centre, WCC invites the community to visit an exhibit of banners depicting religious leaders who are promoting HIV testing by getting tested themselves. The World Health Organization will offer a demonstration of an HIV self-test, and self-test kits will be available for free.

“Come worship, come visit the exhibit and, most important, make a commitment to get tested,” said Merico. “Together, we will lift the stigma in a spirit of unity, acceptance and caring - for ourselves and for each other.”

“When I go to see my doctor I get tested for high blood pressure, diabetes, and many other things. So why should I not be tested for HIV?” says Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge, coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy. “Faith leaders have a lot of influence in the community. We are leaders. I am hoping that many religious leaders will go for testing, and that people in the congregations will also follow,” she adds.

Ideas for churches

Worldwide, churches, communities, families, and individuals can join the effort by accessing an online order of service and by making a commitment to get tested.

Materials from the WCC-EAA are designed for religious leaders and others to use in sermons or in other forums to share accurate information about HIV testing.

“Set aside an HIV testing Sunday each month, or an HIV testing week or month each year,” suggested Merico. “Share your efforts with the media. Tweet about the importance of HIV testing using #KnowYourStatus. Instagram your faith leader supporting HIV testing.”

Speakers at the campaign launch will include:

- Pradeep Kakkattil, director, UNAIDS Executive office
- Dr Rachel Baggaley, coordinator, HIV Prevention and Testing, World Health Organization
- Stanley Noffsinger, director, Office of the General Secretariat, World Council of Churches
- Dr Mwai Makoka, programme executive, Health and Healing, World Council of Churches
- Francesca Merico, HIV campaign coordinator, World Council of Churches Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance

Speakers will be available for questions from the press directly after the launch.

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New videos help congregations hasten HIV response. 20/10/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

Four short videos sharing challenges and examples of how churches and church leaders can make a profound difference in global efforts to end AIDS as a public health threat are now available for individual inspiration and group discussion.

Addressing issues of overcoming stigma and discrimination, leading by example in HIV testing, and tackling sensitive issues about human sexuality, the four videos accompany the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee’s pastoral letter, “Churches Recommit to Accelerate HIV Response” adopted in June 2016 and sent to WCC member churches.

The letter, and congregational resources, highlight the hope that AIDS can be eliminated. But to do that requires intensified efforts now, particularly to address the social drivers that increase vulnerability to HIV transmission, such as stigma, gender inequality, violence and poverty. Churches and all faith communities can and should play a leading role in these areas.

As Rev. Rex Reyes, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines states in his video interview, “If we are to be credible in our preaching, then we have to set an example.”

Videos include:

Overcoming obstacles to HIV testing: Dr Manoj Kurian, coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, addresses the barriers stigma causes in preventing more than half of those living with HIV from knowing their status, and the role churches and religious leaders should play.

 

Breaking the myths in the Philippines: Rev. Rex Reyes, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, describes the leadership of religious leaders in taking HIV tests and discussing the issues of sex and sexuality with young people.

 

Leaders open doors: Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge, coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical HIV Initiatives and Advocacy, challenges leaders and faith communities to address stigma and discrimination and create safe spaces to talk about difficult subjects.

 

Raising awareness, addressing fears in Nigeria: Dr Chibuzo Raphael Opoko, bishop of the Methodist Church in Nigeria shares the important role churches have in educating the community and working with government to ensure access to services.

 

 

Video playlist on YouTube

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Philippines United Methodists Raise Awareness on HIV/AIDS. 29/11/2016

Published by UNITEDMETHODISTCHURCH

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Filipino United Methodist clergy and laity rolled up their sleeves and were tested for HIV/AIDS infection to promote awareness and reduce stigma associated with the disease that infects as many as 37 million worldwide.

The 2016 World AIDS Day will be observed Dec. 1, in a world where more than 35 million people have died of AIDS since the virus was identified 35 years ago.

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Clergy and laity members who volunteered for a blood screening smile after their tests during a forum to promote AIDS awareness and prevention. Photo by Gladys P. Mangiduyos, UMNS.

“This is a time for urgency, not complacency,” said the Rev. Donald Messer, top executive for the Center for Health and Hope and member of the executive committee for the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. Messer was in the Philippines to speak to a forum on HIV/AIDS at Wesleyan University.

"People are getting infected every day. Babies are being born HIV positive," he said.

More than 160 clergy and laity members of The United Methodist Church from Middle Philippines and South Nueva Ecija Philippines attended the forum and members of both conferences were voluntarily tested.

The forum, “Critical Thinkers: Steadfast in Pursuing Shalom” was held Oct. 31, one month before World AIDS Day. It was sponsored by the Center for Health and Hope and John Wesley Academy.  This was the second of a series of topics for consciousness raising and education to cultivate personal and social holiness. Messer has visited the country four times to speak about the deadly virus.

AIDS-free generation

“We are gathering for this conference today because we want to create an AIDS-free generation,” Messer said. “Fortunately, the Philippines is making strides in that direction and you can help be a leader in making that possible.” 

Messer commended the Philippines, the churches and the universities for breaking the silence about HIV and AIDS and giving urgent attention to the issues of HIV education, prevention, care and treatment.

HIV and AIDS is increasing in the Philippines. Messer said in many places in the world young people are often forgotten and excluded from education and planning about HIV/AIDS.

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A banner for an HIV/AIDS forum to promote awareness of deadly disease, sponsored by The United Methodist Church. Photo by Gladys P. Mangiduyos, UMNS.

“An estimated 2,100 young people are daily infected with HIV around the world," he said.

Awareness on HIV and AIDS

May Lacap, president of the Middle Philippines United Methodist Youth Fellowship, brought 75 young people to the forum.

“The best thing that happened during the HIV and AIDS Forum was we were given an opportunity to bring awareness to this issue,” Lacap said.

Lacap said there is a great need to educate every local church on HIV/AIDS.

Vince Arocena, a nurse, and adviser of the youth group at United Methodist City Temple, proposed encouraging congregations to have their blood tested.

“Going through voluntary blood test is an indication that the church is open to such issues," he said.

Dr. Arminda Adecer, a physician from the City Health Office of Cabanatuan, gave a lecture on the current state of HIV and AIDS. She also talked to the people who were getting the blood screening and gave them counseling.

“I am grateful to know that The United Methodist Church and its leaders are very open now on issues such as this," Adecer said.

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Participants of the HIV/AIDS forum in the Philippines pose during the event. The Rev. Donald Messer (second from right), top executive for the Center for Health and Hope and member of the executive committee for the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, was a speaker. Photo by Gladys P. Mangiduyos, UMNS.

Open conversation

In order to be effective in eliminating HIV and AIDS, Messer emphasized the need for open conversations.   

"This means we have to talk about human sexuality in rather explicit ways not common in church or society," he said.

Messer quoted Bishop Catherine Mutua of Kenya who said, "We Africans like to have sex, but we don't like to talk about it!"   

"For too long the church was complicit in silence about how HIV was transmitted and prevented, thereby exposing our children and members to great risk and danger. It seemed some church people would rather have people get sick and die rather than to know the truth about to stop the spread of the disease," Messer said.

Redemptor Fajardo, a teacher of persons with disabilities, had his six students attend the forum to raise awareness for his students.

“Both the church and Wesleyan University can help by redeeming and not condemning,” Fajardo said. 

District superintendents attending the forum pledged to stop condemning and begin redeeming instead.  A public statement was signed by all the participants.

"Getting to zero cannot be accomplished only by people of faith, but with our engagement— both young and old — the world has a better chance of getting to zero infections, discrimination, and deaths, Messer said.  

"Speak to your peers about AIDS education, safer sex, stamping out stigma, promoting testing, and encouraging treatment."  

 

"Yes, truly global AIDS is a matter of life and death!"      

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The Body of Christ Has AIDS. 15/11/2016

Published by LIVINGLUTHERAN

Grace puts an end to HIV and AIDS

 

By Ryan Muralt, program and development associate at ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation, St. Paul, Minn. 

Receiving a scholarship to attend the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durbin, South Africa, this summer was a transformative experience. As a young adult leader in the ELCA, I had the opportunity to represent my parish and ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation, where I currently work as program and development associate. Of particular interest to me was the event’s interfaith pre-conference titled “Faith on the Fast Track: Reducing Stigma, Increasing Access and Defending Human Rights NOW!”

The pre-conference focused on how parish faith communities could be catalysts for ending discrimination of people with HIV or AIDS through destigmatization. “There are two kinds of HIV stigmatization; one is when you say, ‘I don’t like you because you are infected.’ And the other is when you say, ‘I don’t like you because of how you were infected,’ ” said David Barstow of EMPACT Africa during the event. Stigmatization prevents thousands of people around the world from learning their HIV status for fear they will be rejected from their communities.

Lutherans must confront stigmatization by approaching theological and scriptural interpretations with deep grace and a constant frame centered on people, not issues. Grace leads to compassionate community providing space for the whole life of someone living with HIV or AIDS.

As Lutherans, we profess our faith as grounded in grace alone, therefore we are called to be a grace-filled church for the world. We must provide compassion, hospitality and dignity for people living with HIV, and talk about destigmatizing our perceptions specifically on how people contract HIV.

I will be commemorating World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 at ReconcilingWorks by introducing a conversation guide for Reconciling in Christ communities and those that are on a journey to become part of the Reconciling in Christ community. This guide will empower congregational discussion about HIV and AIDS awareness and hospitality and will give a list of resources available for further study.

I challenge fellow ELCA members with this question: How might your congregation grow its hospitality, services and support for those living with HIV or AIDS?

Christ gave dignity, respect, care and love to all those he encountered with deep grace. We must learn to do the same so we can put an end to HIV and AIDS forever.

Some won’t get help

By Sibusiso Mosia, a pastor with Lutheran Communion of Southern Africa

Even though people are aware of AIDS in Southern Africa, they will not come out and get help, especially in the rural areas and most especially people who are in religious groups. I think people need to know that HIV and AIDS kills, and there is no cure but it’s preventable. We need to continue education efforts so  people can begin to treat themselves by getting ARVs (antiretroviral therapies), using condoms and focusing on one partner. People also need to know that the vaccine and cure of HIV and AIDS is being processed with hope that by the year 2030 it will exist. This will give others hope for the future before destroying their lives by giving up.

I learned a lot at the conference that will help me as a pastor to better understand the community we are serving. For Christians there are sometimes issues we don’t want to face, yet we live and minister around them, including prostitution and the LGBTQ community. We believe these are the cursed people and we reject them. And in rejecting them, even if they need help of some sort, we contribute to stigmatization. I have learned of the most important issue, the progress of HIV and AIDS prevention, like the vaccine that is promised to come. This will give persons living with the disease hope that by 2030 this pandemic disease might be over. That means our children may live as a generation free from AIDS.

Tend my sheep

By Amin Sandewa, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania

It should be known that for people of faith issues related to addressing HIV and AIDS are not optional but compulsory. This is originated from our Lord’s command “tend my sheep …”  (John 21: 15-19). HIV and AIDS is preventable and manageable. Why should our people die of a disease that can be controlled if there is enough and correct information on how to address it?

Application of the acquired correct information and enough knowledge, and acquisition and the application of the knowledge are two different things. People of faith must work on changing people’s perceptions on HIV and AIDS—some people of faith, especially religious leaders, regard HIV and AIDS as none of their business. Now we have enough knowledge to control HIV and AIDS, but we also have young adults who are born HIV-positive and need guidance on how to go to marital life, we have discordant couples that need guidance, etc.—this is where the church can intervene.

 

We must avoid the antagonistic relationship between religious and scientific approach in addressing HIV and AIDS, issues such as prevention, by acknowledging scientific approaches as the other hand of God to help people.

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Shine a Light. 11/2016

Published by JHSPH

Terrinieka Powell draws on higher powers to confront Baltimore's HIV/AIDs epidemic. Stephanie Shapiro 

Terrinieka Powell's epiphany came seven years ago in Flint, Michigan. Powell was talking with young people about the sexual health messages they heard in church. Then a postdoc in community psychology at the University of Michigan, she worked at the YOUR Center on a faith-based HIV prevention program led by Ms. Bettina Campbell. For the first time, Powell was hearing directly from adolescents themselves. They knew very little about the disease and how to prevent it.

“I remember one girl saying something like, ‘All we hear is, don’t have sex or you’ll get pregnant, get AIDS and die,’” says Powell, PhD, an assistant professor in Population, Family and Reproductive Health. “I thought, ‘Yikes! How did we get here?’”

Even allowing for imperfect recall, “That’s how young people were interpreting messages,” Powell says. “It was then that I realized we had to do better.”

The adolescents’ remarks made plain that many African-American churches in Flint and nationwide were failing young members by stigmatizing homosexuality and refusing to talk about sex and drugs—even as the HIV/AIDS epidemic devastated their communities.

Powell’s conversation with church youth marked a turning point that would lead her to partner with churches to provide evidence-based sexual health programs for youth in their congregations and community. “I started to think about the ways that I could help churches and faith leaders become better resources for young people,” Powell says.

Since arriving at the Bloomberg School five years ago, Powell has been gathering insights in black churches across Baltimore on how to align religious doctrine with adolescents’ need for sexual health and substance abuse prevention education.

The need is great in Baltimore and across the U.S. Although African-Americans comprise 63 percent of Baltimore’s population, they represent 83 percent (11,000 people) of those living with HIV/AIDS. Nationally, blacks represented 44 percent of all known HIV cases although they made up just 14 percent of the U.S. population in 2009, according to the CDC. In 2010, black young people made up nearly 60 percent of new infections among those ages 13 to 24. The CDC also reported in 2012 that African-Americans accounted for 54 percent of new infections among young men who have sex with men (MSM).

Powell’s collaboration with Baltimore faith communities coincides with proliferating efforts across the U.S. to marshal black churches against HIV/AIDS. Advocates in religious, health and civil rights organizations argue the disease is not a moral failing but a health crisis arising from unjust socioeconomic conditions. In 2012, the NAACP issued The Black Church and HIV: The Social Justice Imperative to mobilize faith leaders against HIV/AIDS—just as they fought for civil rights. Yet many spiritual leaders have dodged the conversation because it would force them to address taboo topics such as homosexuality, premarital sex, infidelity and drug abuse. Many have been critical of their resistance and silence at times, suggesting that churches may be missing opportunities to encourage church members to learn their HIV status and receive pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), or lifesaving antiretroviral therapy if they test positive.

Black churches remain the anchor of community life for millions of African Americans. As a source of spiritual solace and personal empowerment, churches have the authority to open minds and influence behavior say activists such as Frank Lance, senior pastor of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church in Baltimore. Today, though, churches’ silence on the subject of HIV/AIDS not only carries a deadly human cost—but jeopardizes their very existence, Lance says. When churches condemn “sinful behavior” rather than work to heal members, they become irrelevant, he says. “If a church fails to evolve, it will fail to exist.”

From Amazing Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church and Zion Baptist Church in East Baltimore, to Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church and Douglas Memorial Baptist Church on the west side, Powell has cultivated a roster of “pastor pals” in underserved neighborhoods where the risk of HIV infection is high and drug addiction is rampant. Her work begins with engendering trust that she’s not a “helicopter researcher” who collects data and disappears, Powell says. Her own church background puts faith leaders at ease. “When I partner with churches, I try to be very clear that it’s not always tied to research. I ask, ‘How can I contribute to your mission to help and provide wholeness to people?’

“It’s a relationship. People have to believe you’re with them on this journey,” says Powell, who’s also an associate director of the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute and a faculty associate of the CDC-funded Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health.

Where her efforts depart from existing faith-based HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment models is her focus on adolescents rather than older adults or women, she says.

Over the years, schools have become a popular setting for evidence-based interventions. She asks: Why not churches?

“It’s not beyond the realm of the possible for churches to deliver evidence-based interventions that we know work,” she says.

Shine A Light

THE HARD CHOICES

On a late summer afternoon, Powell is deep in conversation with Gary Dittman, pastor of Amazing Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, in his cluttered basement office. Their exchange calls to mind a back porch chat between friends. Powell is upbeat and empathetic as they catch up on church initiatives, a few setbacks and neighborhood politics. She’s quick to spot opportunities for promoting intergenerational fellowship and pleased to learn that Amazing Grace offers a program on healing from trauma. “You know I’m all about that!” she says.

Powell and Dittman contemplate using research funds to purchase a PlayStation 3 as a way of encouraging young men who are avid video gamers to participate in the church community. Although the topic of HIV/AIDS doesn’t come up directly in this particular conversation, they cover other critical issues from the neighborhood’s need for fresh vegetables to the young boy who lives in a three-bedroom house with 13 others and scrambles for food to feed his family.

Powell’s work with pastors takes into account the hard choices they have to make when allocating limited resources in communities with multiple health disparities. Not all are willing or able to launch HIV/AIDS ministries and outreach programs as Frank Lance has at Mt. Lebanon. Powell and Lance, who serves on the city’s HIV/AIDS commission, have spent hours discussing ways to incorporate HIV-related information and programming into the agendas of less progressive churches. “The greatest stigma [associated with men who have sex with men and HIV/AIDS] is still in the black church,” Lance says.

He blames the psychic wounds inflicted by slavery and systemic racism for black homophobia that continues to fuel self-hatred and shame among African-Americans. Overcoming stigma requires a pastor’s cooperation and a firm grasp of Scripture, he says. “Terri and I talk about how we take this message to churches in a way that is theologically sound and biblically sound.”

As her ties to faith leaders in less progressive churches strengthen, Powell can begin to assess their churches’ capacity for addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Powell may give pastors ideas for incorporating messages about HIV/AIDS into a sermon, hosting an HIV screening event or making a list of resources available in a discreet location.

“My goal is always to say, ‘Well, what can you do? We should all be able to do something.’” Powell has found that even black churches that remain hostile to homosexuality are increasingly receptive to addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Not all are ready to fully embrace prevention efforts, however. Often, Powell says, an aversion to discussing sexuality isn’t what’s holding them back. “One of the things that I hear repeatedly, is, ‘It’s not in my training to talk about HIV, mental health, domestic violence.’ That’s not how pastors are trained.”

Powell aims to create a synergistic relationship between Baltimore’s faith communities and the Bloomberg School. “Public health and church partnerships are necessary,” she says. “We know a lot about interventions and about what works.” For such partnerships to succeed, churches must tap into their own expertise as well, says Powell, who often hires church and community members to help conduct research.

Her brand of public health outreach is a model for the School, says her mentor, Carl Latkin, PhD, a professor in Health, Behavior and Society. “Terri’s approach of integrating community-based research with practice and rigorous methods represents the direction Hopkins should be heading to improve Baltimore City,” Latkin says.'

NOT THERE YET

When Powell herself was an adolescent, she attended Trinity United Church on Chicago’s South Side, an activist African-American church renowned for its commitment to social justice. (Also sitting in Trinity’s pews at the time was a community organizer named Barack Obama and his family.) Powell found spiritual grounding there, but initially didn’t recognize the church’s potential for improving the physical and mental wellbeing of the congregation and surrounding community. At the time, she was mystified that the church had a prison ministry. “They [the prisoners] must have done something bad,” she remembers thinking. Sermon by sermon, Powell came to see the Gospel and social justice as one and the same. “The more I grew, the more I started to understand what the pastor said: ‘Everyone has the right to sit at the feet of God.’” In other words, as her pastor elaborated, “All people deserve the opportunity to be healthy.”

Powell now worships at Douglas Memorial Community Church, a stately pillar of West Baltimore since 1857, with its own history of activism. A couple of years ago, senior pastor Todd Yeary got tested for HIV as he stood on the pulpit in Douglas Memorial’s bright, blue sanctuary. It was a way to normalize the procedure for congregants. “You’ve got to know your status even though you might be a saint,” Yeary says. Afterward, church members in their Sunday finest lined up for a church testing event, he recalls.

One of the things that I hear repeatedly, is, 'It's not in my training to talk about HIV, mental health, domestic violence.' that's not how pastors are trained.

Still, community refusal to confront the epidemic persists as a source of frustration for Yeary, who was part of the NAACP’s effort to produce The Black Church and HIV, and is writing two books on HIV/AIDS as a social justice issue. One of the “multiple types of violence that plays out in our community is the denial of public health issues,” he says. “We cannot be willing participants in denying our communities are dying because we’re unwilling to deal forthrightly with HIV/AIDS.”

Shine a Light

Perceptions gleaned from pastors and their congregations form the foundation of Powell’s research. One study, published this summer in the journal AIDS Education and Prevention, sought recommendations from 30 churchgoing young black men who have sex with men (YBMSM) in Baltimore for fostering more inclusive HIV prevention efforts within the church. In the study, participants endorsed a two-tiered approach that concurrently tackled stigmatization and the sexual health needs of all congregants. Prevention efforts should have equal standing with ministry to the sick, participants said. They also advocated for bringing in public health experts to instruct church members on correct condom use and for the creation of support groups for YBMSM.

In relying on the impressions and experiences of YBMSM, Powell’s study gave voice to a population often overlooked: black gay adolescents who attend church. Their responses laid bare the pain of worshipping in a church where they don’t always feel welcome. Interview participant Kurt Ragin regularly attends the church where he grew up, but can’t shake the sense of shame that overcomes him on Sundays. He feels as if he’s “a disgrace to a community that I thought I was a part of. I have to take that with me everywhere I go,” Ragin says.

Powell’s study also demonstrated that members of a marginalized population can make valuable contributions to the design of a public health intervention—and to their own congregations. Participating in the interview gave Ragin, an outreach worker for an adolescent HIV/AIDS prevention program at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, the opportunity to provide heart-felt answers to hard questions. What’s more, Ragin realized that when confronted by misunderstanding and fear in his church home, “I have the power to advocate for the culture of being black and gay.”

When designing health education programs, there is no need to reinvent the wheel, Powell’s research reveals. Faith leaders and churchgoing families would approve of current evidence-based sexual health and HIV interventions for youth —with the addition of relevant references to Scripture. “This has also surprised me given the strong perception that churches are only interested in ‘abstinence only’ rhetoric,” Powell says.

Faith-based sexual health and HIV research has a long way to go, Powell notes. Researchers must continue to partner with black churches to promote HIV/AIDS testing, treatment and care. Powell’s yardstick for success is the HIV Care Continuum, a model that identifies the five stages of HIV medical care, starting with a diagnosis and ending with achievement of viral suppression, a milestone attained by only 30 percent of those living with HIV. “One of the goals is to have everyone who is HIV positive to be virally suppressed,” Powell says. “We’re not there yet.”

Her own goal is perhaps less ambitious, but no less important: to see more church communities connecting with young people, especially those who may be at risk for the disease and making sure they are cared for. "At every phase of this continuum," she says, "there are opportunities for folks to be engaged."

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Bible Study Gives Hope as Youth Reflect on HIV. 2/11/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

“In our community, HIV is not spoken about openly. And the challenge is, it’s like people are both informed and not informed. They know what HIV is, that it’s an illness that can be treated, but still they don’t want to really talk about it, like they don’t really want to know about it…”

It is late October, and we are joining a youth fellowship meeting at the Saint Pathenios Orthodox Church in Nairobi, Kenya. The fellowship gathers every Sunday after service, for times of song, dance, prayer, and a safe space to share views on life and the issues they face.

In recent years, church leaders at Saint Pathenios have received regular training by staff from the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy in contextual Bible study, a concept they now use to address issues of sexual violence, gender justice and, in particular, HIV from a faith perspective.

“What we basically do in contextual Bible study, is to study specific Bible verses to see how they speak to the issues affecting us here today,” says one of the youth during our discussion. “This can help us understand that those living with HIV, for example, it’s not like they are cursed. They can still work, and live a normal life.”

Another youth fills in, “For many, the issue is still the stigma. We know we should view HIV like any other illness, like diabetes, for example, which also cannot be cured. But at the same time, if you are infected with HIV, you still hesitate to tell your friend. On Sunday, you just don’t want to be the topic of the day in church.”

Peter Kangethe, lay leader and youth pastor at Saint Pathenios, reflects, “The church in our African tradition has often treated HIV as a moral issue. But today, we actually see many youth who live healthy lives but who were born HIV positive. And so, if you deal with HIV as a moral issue today, then in many ways you miss the point.”

“Yet if you want to change something in society, you cannot ignore the church as a social driver,” says Kangethe. “In studying the Bible, we now want to find ways to address even those issues that have traditionally been difficult to discuss openly in our church.”

“If we want different perspectives, then I believe the church can be a safe space for dialogue,” reflects a third youth participant. “If you know you can stand out and still not be judged, then this can make the issues of HIV less tense, and help motivate the community to accept and speak more openly about it.”

The Saint Pathenios Orthodox Church is an autonomous congregation in the Greek Orthodox tradition. It is located in the Waithaka neighbourhood in Nairobi, Kenya. Sunday service is given in the local language Kikuyu, mixed with elements of English.

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Zambia: “On HIV, We do not Compete. We work Together.” 20/10/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

”We are here to listen. To learn what others do, so we can contextualize our understanding of HIV issues, and journey together in our work ahead. Because on HIV, we do not compete. We work together.”

The second of two national HIV interfaith consultations in quick succession, faith leaders, youth, partners and other stakeholders meet in Zambia on 19-21 October as part of a two-year PEPFAR-UNAIDS faith-based initiative intended to strengthen the capacity of faith community leaders and organizations to advocate for and deliver a sustainable HIV response.

Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge, coordinator the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy, continues to reflect, ”in looking back, we can acknowledge as faith communities that we have not always succeeded in responding to HIV. But we have stayed the course, and we continue to address these issues even today.”

”At the same time”, says Juliene Munyaneza from the UNAIDS community mobilization faith-based organizations (FBO) initiative, ”while it is well-known that faith-based organizations do a lot of work to overcome HIV, we often lack the hard data. How can we document the work of faith communities, to keep track of what is actually happening at the ground level?”

John Blevins, associate research professor and director of the interfaith health program at Emory University, who leads an academic consortium to collect, map and analyze faith-based HIV responses in Kenya and Zambia, reflects, “sometimes those of us coming out of religious traditions speak in theological terms, and continue to refer to our sacred texts. Now all of that is very important to do, but people at the policy-making level are often looking for concrete measurable outputs. So I think our role as an academic consortium is to make clear to funders and policy-makers and to people from the health science sector the distinctive contributions of our faith-based partners, while remaining sensitive and respectful to the language and theologies of faith-based communities.”

Strong partnerships in focus, as Zambia mobilizes to overcome HIV

“To fight HIV, we are convinced that faith-based organizations have a big role to play,” says Munyaneza. “If religious leaders are convinced and take the lead to lead by example, then we know that people will follow. But we need strong partnerships at all levels to make this happen.”

“So therefore, we now try to move from work at the global level, to the ground level. To make sure people on the ground, those who do the manual work on the ground, that they have the information they need, and know that they have our support.”

Dr Kenneth Mwansa, community mobilization institutional networking adviser at UNAIDS, concurs. “We have had so much interaction on the national level,” he says, “but if things are not then brought down to the local level, if things do not happen at the most local level, then they do not happen at all.”

Reflecting on processes and methodologies to strengthen partnerships and relationships at the most local level, YWCA programmes manager Miriam Mwiinga continues, “as the YWCA, we have worked hard to encourage young women and girls to learn about sexual and reproductive health, and to make sure they can enjoy their human rights. But we have also realized that as we empower young women, often when they return to their everyday lives, they meet friends and family who have not been made aware of the same issues. In Zambia, therefore, the YWCA has taken steps to empower not only women, but to also invite and employ our safe-space methodology to target and empower religious leaders, parents, the school community, as well as young men and boys.”

Julie Baratita, who is monitoring and evaluation adviser and acting executive director at the Zambia Interfaith Networking Group, concludes, “When two or more people are gathered together, we know that the Lord is also around. And in Zambia, we say that if bees move in swarms, lions live in packs, and the breams swim in schools, then why would there be a reason for us as humans to not journey together?”

Mirroring the consultation in Nairobi, Kenya, on 11-13 October, the consultation in Zambia culminates in a roadmap and call-to-action to guide implementation of the PEPFAR-UNAIDS faith-based initiative, and ultimately forms part of the UNAIDS 2016-2021 strategy On the Fast-track to End AIDS. A shared platform for both countries will also be established to develop national faith action plans for 2017.

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Kenya: Voice of Faith Communities Crucial in Overcoming HIV. 14/10/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

“Is there a way we can address stigma and discrimination among faith communities, to set an example, so that those who are there to provide services, to give care, do not themselves stigmatize? Because when it comes to HIV and AIDS, it doesn’t matter if we are Christians or Muslims, women or men. With HIV and AIDS, we need to deal with it as human beings.”

UNAIDS representative Juliene Munyaneza gives introductory words at a national interfaith HIV consultation taking place in Nairobi, Kenya on 11-13 October, a consultation that forms part of a two-year PEPFAR-UNAIDS faith-based initiative intended to strengthen the capacity of faith community leaders and organizations to advocate for and deliver a sustainable HIV response.

“We know that faith communities are key in overcoming HIV,” explains Katherine Perry, Kenya coordinator at PEPFAR. “Religious leaders have powerful voices in mobilizing people to take up testing, treatment and care, and we simply cannot do this without them.”

Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge, coordinator the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy, continues, “As faith representatives, we know that we do not only need to see to the medical treatment, but also focus on the social drivers, the social justice aspect to treatment. If you neglect the social justice issues related to HIV, then you will not get anywhere.”

Irene Kizito, national general secretary of the National Young Women’s Christian Association in Kenya, stresses the importance of broad networks in working against HIV. “In attending this consultation, from the YWCA we hope to contribute with our knowledge of what it means to be active both on the most local level, and to collaborate with organizations and institutions at the national and international levels,” Kizito says.

But how can we support dialogue and understanding between faith leaders and key populations, in particular youth and adolescents in questions related to HIV? A particular focus of the consultation was intergenerational dialogue, on questions of testing, treatment, stigma and discrimination, gender roles and sexual violence, and the consultation sets out to create safe spaces for sharing experiences across generations.

Harriet Kongin, adviser for policy and strategy at UNAIDS Kenya, reflects, “Looking back, ten-fifteen years ago, we can see that our work was all to do with awareness-raising. Today, the questions are different. We see now many opportunities in partnering and journeying with youth, to mobilize around messages around HIV. But we should not plan for young people, we should work with them, and listen to them.”

“I believe intergenerational dialogue and safe spaces are a way for youth to share and for the older generations to understand what exactly is happening in the lives of adolescents, and to see where there is an age-gap that we need to overcome,” says Brian Otieno, peer mentor at INERELA+ Kenya. “Through this safe space dialogue, I hope religious leaders can change their points of view, their angle of view, to understand better and keep an open mind to the issues that affect young people.”

Njoroge continues, “how can we not know how to do intergenerational dialogue, when our children are the most vulnerable to HIV infection? Given what we know today, even one newly infected child is one too many.”

“At the end of the day, we must dare to ask also the hard questions,” Njoroge concludes. “What is the point of a child being born negative if by the age of 15 they have been infected anyway?”

The consultation in Nairobi will be followed by a similar consultation in Lusaka, Zambia on 19-21 October. Each culminates in a roadmap and call-to-action to guide implementation of the PEPFAR-UNAIDS faith-based initiative, and ultimately forms part of the UNAIDS 2016-2021 strategy On the Fast-track to End AIDS. A shared platform for both countries will also be established to develop national faith action plans for 2017.

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Kenyan Churches Demand HIV Test for Couples Wanting to Marry. 30/9/2016

Published by RELIGIONNEWS

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) Some Kenyan churches are demanding premarital HIV testing before weddings, a trend activists warn is infringing on the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS.

For some, it’s a quiet matter, with the couples privately told to check with a doctor or a clinic, but for others an HIV test is a mandatory requirement before the couples are joined in marriage.

Recently, some Pentecostal and evangelical groups have demanded strict adherence to the requirement, while Roman Catholic and most mainline Protestant churches tend to be less strict.

During the past decade, new HIV infections in the largely Christian country have risen faster than in any other in sub-Saharan country, according to a study by the Global Burden of Disease collaborative.

Last year, over 1.8 million Kenyans were living with the HIV virus, which, if left untreated, can lead to AIDS. Nearly 39 percent of those were using life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs, a rate below the regional average rate of 43 percent.

Ten years ago, the country passed a law banning HIV tests as a precondition for marriage. The law warns against breaching confidentiality and disclosing individual statuses without consent.

But  Ng’ang’a said the network was recently alarmed after it found out that some churches were breaching confidentiality after receiving the tests.

“Some tests were kept in open files that could easily be scrutinized by anyone,” she said. “We see this as a new form of stigma and discrimination for those with HIV and AIDS.”

 

The clergy who demand the HIV tests say they are driven by a desire to protect their members from HIV and AIDS. They say the church needs to help nurture healthy families and prevent divorce, disease and death.

“A HIV test is mandatory for any couple planning to wed in our church,” said the Rev. Solomon Mwalili of the Free Pentecostal Fellowship in Kenya. “I think it’s for general good — for the two involved and the family they plan to raise.”

Pentecostal pastor James Kyalo of the Machakos region, 40 miles from the capital Nairobi, said his church demands two HIV tests: the first when the couple seeks to start the wedding process; then six months later.

He said the church members have never protested or complained about the requirement.

Some pastors say couples should know the test results if they plan to rear children. Once they know they are infected, for example, they can seek advice from doctors on how to care for themselves and how to live in the community.

The Rev. Patrick Lihanda, superintendent of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, said that when one of the couples is HIV-positive, they do not ask the couple to split, but instead advise them how to live together.

“HIV is a reality and we cannot bury our heads in the sand,” said Lihanda. “When we find out that one of couple is infected, we counsel them and marry them. I think that’s the best thing to do, since they are in love.”

The Rev. Wellington Mutiso, an official with the Baptist Convention of Kenya, said many Baptist churches do not demand the test, since most couples have already engaged in premarital sex before the church wedding.

Like Baptists, mainline churches find the demand for the test discriminatory and an obstacle in the fight against the epidemic.

 

“A certificate or a test is not important for us, since anyone can contract HIV,” said Anglican Bishop Julius Kalu of the Mombasa Diocese. “The virus does not also mean one cannot live a full life. Even in cases of HIV, the couple can still live together.”

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Engaging Religious Actors Across the Globe to Fight AIDS and HIV. 27/9/2016

Published by PARD

The role of religion in shaping an effective global response to HIV and AIDS in a post-2015 framework was prominently featured at the AIDS 2016 conference in Durban, South Africa.

 HIV and AIDS leave no country unaffected. In 2015, 36.7 million people were living with HIV, including 2.6 million children. The virus thrives in situations of poverty and vulnerability, and hits adolescents, young people, women and key populations the hardest - according to the UN Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS most notably these are people who inject drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people, and prisoners. The disease generates stigma and discrimination while eroding the capacities of institutions and systems. Any response to such a global challenge requires the broad mobilisation of communities and institutions from all parts of society.

The enormous outreach of religious and faith-based organisations to local communities represents a vital asset as part of a comprehensive and sustainable response to the epidemic.

Religious organisations (ROs) are substantial partners in the delivery of care, treatment, and support to those suffering from HIV and AIDS in some of the most rural and poorest areas of the world. The strong linkages between faith based health care facilities and community-based healthcare place them in an ideal position to mobilise and support rapid scale-up of HIV testing in communities, and support retention in care. Currently, up to one-fourth of all HIV treatment and care is provided by faith-based organisations. In addition to providing immediate support to people living with HIV, ROs use their networks on global, national and local levels to advocate for scale-up of effective, evidence based and safe preventative measures aiming at decreasing infection rates. They are engaged in fighting social stigma related to HIV/AIDS and advocate for a fully funded AIDS response. To that end, faith based organizations have issued a call to action on AIDS (please find the link on the right).

After 35 years of responding to the epidemic, the scientific and medical community now has the knowledge to end the disease as a public health threat. However, the response to HIV is currently at a critical juncture: ‘AIDS fatigue’ in public discourse and policy threatens to reduce investment in the fight against HIV and AIDS and the next five years are critical to overcome the epidemic. If efforts to fight HIV are not intensified, relief efforts by the global community are at risk to be outrun by the disease.

The 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016) was hosted in Durban to advance a clear agenda for the global response to HIV and AIDS in a post-2015 framework. Organisations, leaders and activists representing all parts of the global community gathered to discuss this crucial task in South Africa on this occasion from July 18th-22nd, 2016. In order to prevent this resurgence of the disease, UNAIDS has initiated a Fast Track Initiative to rapidly scale up the international response to it. The organization has laid out ambitious 90-90-90 targets for the Fast Track to ensure the disease is defeated by 2030: By 2020, 90% of people will know their HIV status, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will have received sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.

A strong faith response is crucial to achieving the Fast-Track Targets by 2020, and to ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

Faith based and religious organisations are crucial partners in reaching the 90-90-90 targets, as they are capable of scaling up and accelerating access to treatment at a local, national, regional and global level through their unique networks. Sally Smith, senior advisor on faith-based organisations at UNAIDS emphasises: ‘Science and treatment on its own are not enough. We need to address the social determinants that are driving the stigma and discrimination that are preventing people from getting tested and staying on treatment.’ Indeed, in some countries such as Iran, social stigma is literally deadly: Almost 60 per cent of people living with HIV in the country take their own lives within the first year of their diagnosis. South African actress Charlize Theron equally emphasised this aspect in her speech at AIDS 2016 highlighting that the disease does not discriminate on its own, but due to social factors: ‘It has no biological preference for black bodies, for women’s bodies, for gay bodies, for youth or for the poor. It doesn’t single out the vulnerable, oppressed, or abused.’

It is of particular importance to highlight the role of religious organisations and leaders in regards to social factors surrounding the disease: They can determine what is provided in local health centres, have the ability to mobilise communities to take up healthcare, and have huge potential to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV and AIDS. Equally, they can play a significant role in creating welcoming and accepting communities for marginalised and key populations such as LGBT communities. Acknowledging this, an Interfaith Pre-Conference, titled ‘Faith on the Fast Track’ from July 15-17th, gathered Religious leaders and international organisations to discuss three key areas where the involvement of faith- based initiatives is crucial: reducing stigma, increasing access to treatment, and defending human rights.

By understanding the role FBOs play, governments and secular actors can find ways of optimising global partnerships to halt the epidemic as part of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.

Across the globe, religious organisations are tackling stigmatisation and marginalisation head on. Positive Muslims, an initiative founded in South Africa in 2000, advocates a theology of love and compassion: People with AIDS cannot be denied support and be forced to the margins of society, but rather are to be respected and treated with dignity. In Kenya, an initiative of the Coptic Orthodox church called the Hope Centre has the reputation for providing the best in physical, psychological, and spiritual support for the infected from all parts of society. Equally, Buddhist monks responded to the spike in infection rates in the 1990’s in Thailand by opening temple doors and offering shelter for those suffering from AIDS.

Such examples show how the core values of most religions – compassion, love, and dignity – help in addressing the deadly disease. The AIDS 2016 conference provided the ideal platform to further cooperation between bilateral, multilateral, secular and religious actors in order to build strong partnerships necessary to ensure HIV/AIDS are overcome in due time.

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A Fast-Track faith-based response to HIV. 20/9/2016

Published by UNAIDS

Faith-based organizations have played a critical role in responding to HIV since the start of the epidemic more than 35 years ago. Many faith-based organizations have been delivering effective, high-quality HIV services, complementing national public health programmes in the countries most affected by HIV. Their position of trust at the heart of communities allows faith-based organizations to provide services and support that extend beyond the reach of many public sector health systems.

The engagement of the faith community is paramount to achieving the UNAIDS Fast-Track Targets and the Sustainable Development Goal target of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. Countries, faith communities, and other partners recommitted to these targets during the June 2016 United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS in New York. Countries adopted a Political Declaration on Ending AIDS and the faith community issued a call to action to ensure that no one is left behind.

In the call to action, faith leaders pledged to take significant and sustained action during the next five years in four particular areas: reducing stigma and discrimination; increasing access to HIV services; defending human rights; and ensuring treatment for children. They called on all faith leaders to join them.

To provide an opportunity to strengthen relationships and forge new partnerships, the World Council of Churches–Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, in collaboration with UNAIDS, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the United Nations Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development, hosted an interfaith prayer breakfast on the sidelines of the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

 

Participants included faith leaders from a multitude of religions, all of whom agreed to support a coordinated faith-based effort in responding to HIV. The call to action issued in June was reiterated and wide-ranging discussions were held that resulted in a number of strong follow-up recommendations and commitments to action over the next five years to ensure a Fast-Track faith-based response to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

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Faith-Based Groups Bring Hope for a Fast-Track HIV Response. 20/9/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

"If there ever was a time to change words into action, it is today", said U.S. ambassador-at-large Deborah L. Birx, M.D., coordinator of the United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS and U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy, at an interfaith prayer breakfast held during the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 20 September.

The event was promoted by the World Council of Churches–Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA), in collaboration with UNAIDS, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the United Nations Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development as an opportunity to strengthen relationships and forge new partnerships.

For Peter Prove, director of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), the group of co-sponsors of the interfaith prayer breakfast is “self-expressive of the forms of partnership the WCC seeks to promote and encourage between FBOs and faith communities of all religious traditions, governments and the UN”, he said. “The WCC seeks to model a strong, proactive, collaborative and compassionate response to HIV and AIDS and to move together from this commitment to action for the elimination of AIDS as a public health threat by 2013.”

Faith-based organizations (FBOs) have played a critical role in responding to HIV since the start of the epidemic more than 35 years ago. Many faith-based organizations have been delivering effective, high-quality HIV services, complementing national public health programmes in the countries most affected by HIV. Their position of trust at the heart of communities allows faith-based organizations to provide services and support that extend beyond the reach of many public sector health systems.

Luiz Loures, deputy executive director of programme, UNAIDS, and assistant secretary-general of the United Nations, stressed that faith communities are on the front of the struggle against the pandemic. “You are the ones who bring us hope. Your capacity needs to be incorporated in our way of work”, said Loures, who leads UNAIDS’ efforts in leveraging critical support to countries to end AIDS by 2030.

“At the end of the day our destiny is one and the same”, said Imman Abdul-Malik, president, NYC Family Day Inc., speaking on the need for stronger common actions by FBOs to end HIV.

In his address, Monsignor Robert J. Vitillo, general secretary of the International Catholic Migration Commission, expressed concern about the vulnerability of children facing HIV. “Children cannot speak for themselves. They need us to speak for them,” said the health representative of the Holy See.

Kalvin Leveille, health educator and HIV-positive speaker for Love Heals, offered a strong testimony to the participants of the prayer breakfast. “Ten percent of life is what happens to us; 90% is what we do about it,” he said. “We have to own where we are, successes and failures, in order to move forward. All of us need to be at the table if we want to overcome this epidemic.”

The engagement of the faith community is paramount to achieving the UNAIDS Fast-Track Targets and the Sustainable Development Goal target of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. Countries, faith communities and other partners recommitted to these targets during the June 2016 United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS in New York. Countries adopted a Political Declaration on Ending AIDS and the faith community issued a call to action to ensure that no one is left behind.

In the call to action, faith leaders pledged to take significant and sustained action during the next five years in four particular areas: reducing stigma and discrimination; increasing access to HIV services; defending human rights; and ensuring treatment for children. They called on all faith leaders to join them.

Participants included faith leaders from a multitude of religions, all of whom agreed to support a coordinated faith-based effort in responding to HIV. The call to action issued in June was reiterated and wide-ranging discussions were held that resulted in a number of strong follow-up recommendations and commitments to action over the next five years to ensure a fast-track faith-based response to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

 

Azza Karam, senior advisor on Culture at the United Nations Population Fund, stressed the exceptional number of side events that are taking place during the United Nations General Assembly. “It is an exceptional time to build stronger connections between the UN and faith-based organizations,” she said.

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More Than Showing Up to Sing a Song: Building Understanding and Joint Action Between People Living With HIV and Religious Leaders. 16/9/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

Being open about living with HIV can still be daunting and damaging, even some 30 years into the response to the virus. The pernicious stigma that cleaves to testing positive, remains one of the main barriers to a truly effective response. While billions of dollars have been spent over the last few decades to tackle HIV and AIDS scientifically and medically, with huge gains in prevention and treatment, social and cultural barriers still remain in what is the greatest epidemic in modern history.

It is within the realm of the social and cultural that the faith-based community has been tested most severely, often being forced to confront the implied questions of morality that have been such a part of this polarizing disease. Within this context, the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) and the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with and Affected by HIV or AIDS (INERELA+) joined with the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) and UNAIDS to launch the Framework for Dialogue in August 2013. The framework would be a tool driven by eight principles to facilitate dialogue and joint action between people living with HIV and religious leaders. All dialogue would be country-owned and evidence-based. The dialogue would be people-centred and not do harm, and promise equal and meaningful participation by all, while being innovative in scope and nature. And the dialogue would be action-oriented and happen in a safe space free of judgment or discrimination. To date, the strategic framework has been initiated in seven countries, including Kenya and India.

Jane Ng'ang'a, national coordinator for the Kenya chapter of INERELA+, says that the framework helped plumb the depths of issues related to effectively addressing HIV in the faith community. “When we held the first dialogue, we were surprised by the issues” that were raised by people living with HIV, “to the extent that they felt that they were not being meaningfully involved in faith communities.”

Many people living with HIV said that the level of involvement often amounted to being asked to “come and sing us a song,” said Ng'ang'a, which was supposed to translate into being involved. “When they expressed some of these issues, then the religious leaders realized there was a problem”, including the fact that some groups within the faith community were still left behind. Once again, stigma rears its head. “Women who have lost their husbands to AIDS” face “a lot of stigma in faith communities. Every time another married woman sees her speak to her husband, there is trouble. Single women in the church and especially those openly living with HIV” also encounter stigma. Using the framework meant that “we were able to unearth some of these hidden issues fueling stigma that were not being addressed.”

A people-centred approach that is all about action

Ng’ang'a notes that looking at evidence through a faith lens was important. “The Kenya Stigma Index Survey (2013) reported stigma and discrimination at over 45% at the national level. Within various counties it stands at different levels.” By bringing hard data to the table, and creating a safe space in which to have a dialogue and hear from people living with HIV about their personal experiences “was very powerful. Of course, religious leaders listening in, they were shocked.”

Ng'ang'a notes that part of the reason why people were shocked was that many had simply not thought of the extent stigma impacts the lives of people living with HIV. “That interaction, that dialogue process, was very important. We were able to come up with joint actions that religious leaders have been able to implement together with people living with HIV.” One of the most powerful actions, according to Ng’ang’a, is advocacy which, while started at the national level, has taken hold at grassroots level.

Across the ocean in India, Dr Asa Herwadkaer, who is a board member of INERELA+ and the Asian Network on HIV and AIDS (AINA), said the framework methodology first makes it clear that there must be equal participation between  the networks of positive people, and faith leaders as the dialogue is developed. “[Equal representation] is something that one knows we have to, but usually it is not followed” she said. It meant that everyone participating shared a “platform for understanding the framework.” The next step will be to make sure that it plays out nationally as a “basis for dialogue”. The Art of Living Foundation has expressed willingness to host the event.

The founder of the Art of Living Foundation, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, has been very supportive of interfaith dialogue and a compassionate response to HIV for many years. Herwadkaer recalled an earlier request to Art of Living to host an interfaith  meeting on HIV in 2010. “We approached His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar  for a meeting and instead of the 70 or 80 leaders that we proposed, he said “Let’s call everybody” and we conducted one of the largest interfaith meetings on HIV with 350 faith leaders positive delegates and international delegates. It was the largest summit on HIV in India in 2010.

Gaps that remain

Dr Herwadkaer believes that ensuring equal space for all as foundational to the framework is the right approach. However, “the only thing is that people are not really aware of it”, which means involving leaders from faith-based organizations and people living with HIV networks globally to make sure that word gets out about the initiative.

Ng'ang'a notes that one of the big gaps identified is the need to support the process so that the joint actions can be implemented fully and documentation of impact well articulated. “What came out was very beautiful and good recommendations, but we have only been able to implement about a third due to lack of resources.”

 

Although critical, it is “not just enough to hold the dialogue.” She recommends that once the dialogue has happened, people should look to the implementation of the actions, “because this is what will change the narrative of stigma.”

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WCC Book Featured in UN Discussion on Gender, Religions and Health. 16/9/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

“Dignity, Freedom, and Grace: Christian Perspectives on HIV, AIDS and Human Rights,” a book published earlier this year by the World Council of Churches (WCC), will be among reports discussed at a 20 September event with the theme “Keeping the Faith in Development: Gender, Religions & Heath.”

The discussion, a side event to the UN General Assembly, will be held at The Salvation Army Auditorium in New York City at noon. “Keeping the Faith in Development” will explore “taboo issues” faith communities encounter when seeking to address sexual and reproductive health challenges and the “faith-full” ways to resolve them, with participants invited to put forward recommendations for action to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The WCC publication, “Dignity, Freedom, and Grace”, broaches the challenging questions faced by those with HIV and those who work with them. The book offers perspectives on the meaning of human rights, their relation to the language of church traditions, contextual wisdom of key populations most at risk for HIV, and best practices and theological reflections of Christian churches.

In addition to “Dignity, Freedom, and Grace,” the discussion will focus on “Religion, Women’s Health and Rights: Points of Contention, Paths of Opportunities,” a joint UNFPA–NORAD paper; and “Promoting good health & good conscience - The Ethics of Using Contraceptives,” which gathers scholarship from prominent Catholic theologians, ethicists and physicians to provide a re-assessment of the ethics of using contraception.

Organizers note that issues of health and gender equality are central to the Sustainable Development Goals, and achieving the goals requires addressing the opportunities and challenges religious communities and religious faith provide.

Anwar Khan, chief executive officer, Islamic Relief USA, who will speak at the event, notes “The faith-based community plays an integral role in the lives of women. Representatives of these faiths have much to offer in the discussion on health care and development as it relates to the community members they engage and support.”

Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, Ph.D. Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies and Director, Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue, Jewish Theological Seminary, who will also speak at the event adds, “We are taught in Genesis that God created humanity – male and female – in God’s image and likeness. Thus we are commanded to care for our health, especially reproductive health, as we extol the Creator and bring new life in God’s image into the world. We must teach and practice, even those topics that we find difficult, to serve our Creator and the image of God we see in one another.”

“The nexus of health, gender and religion can of course be very contentious in secular and religious dialogue, and perhaps has held back the full potential of religion as a driver and sustainer of development ” says Francesca Merico, coordinator of the WCC-EAA’s Live the Promise campaign which is co-hosting the discussion. “Respectful dialogue that can identify areas of agreement and practical ways forward is essential as we all seek to uphold the inherent dignity of every human being.”

The upcoming discussion is co-hosted by UNAIDS, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UNWomen (as part of the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and Development), WCC-Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, and Islamic Relief USA.

 

The panel will be comprised of authors, religious scholars, faith leaders and secular international development representatives. Confirmed speakers include: Rabbi Burton Visotzky, Jewish Theological Seminary; Imam Shamsi Ali, President of Nusantara Foundation; Mr. Luis Mora, UNFPA; Ms. Sally Smith, UNAIDS; Ms. Lopa Banerjee, UNWomen; Mr. Luca Badini-Confalonieri, Wijngaards Institute; Mr. Anwar Khan, Islamic Relief USA; Ms. Gillian Paterson, Heythrop College, London, Ms. Julie Clague, University of Glasgow and Mr. Ulrich Nitschke, International Partnership for Religions and Sustainable Development (PaRD)]; Ms. Safira Rameshfar, Baha'i International Community; and Ms Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, Wash Alliance

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Honest Talk Blossoms Between Youth, Theologians in Cote d’Ivoire. 14/9/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

Religious leaders must break their silence with regard to young people and sexual reproductive health, agreed young people and theologians gathered in Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) from 6-7 September.

Young people and women theologians from Ivory Coast and Togo met to discuss the theme “Sexuality and Contextual Study.” They spent two days sharing their views and experiences on raising awareness of youth vulnerability to the risk of early pregnancies and HIV infection. The training was organized by the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA).

Thirty-six theologians, adolescents and young people from the United Methodist Church of Cote d’Ivoire, Harrist Church, Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA), Catholic Church, Association of Muslim Students, Association of Christian Students, and theological institutions met to reflect and find a common strategy to accompany young people, adolescents and parents.

From the statistics, fecundity in Cote d’Ivoire is 15% among young people and adolescents because of the lack of dialogue between youth and parents, lack of accompaniment, early sexual intercourse, psychological and physiological immaturity, risky behavior, wrong facts about sexuality, peer influence and insufficient information on sexual education. The training provided an intergenerational dialogue, a safe space for youth and adults to honestly share, and enable young people to identify much-needed role models.

Sharing a testimony, Pastor Yao Aimée from CMA said: ”I was told by my tutor to find someone who can provide me the service of sexual intercourse, and I followed his advice, not knowing that this was wrong and this has led to various challenges in my life.” This testimony encouraged young people to seek the right information, know their body and resist peer influence.

Young people lack role models in responding to the stakes posed by early sexual relations. The interreligious space provided has enabled participants to highlight challenges related to sex and sexuality for youth.

Key actions identified to break the silence and appropriately accompany the children are to continuously teach Christian and Muslim values to children and enable parents to be trained on issues of sexual reproductive health and sexuality for the sake of the children. A “Whatsapp group” — an online group chat feature — was created to continue sharing the vision developed by young people: “an Ivorian youth, affected and/or infected, responsible and blossomed for a new generation without AIDS.”

Trainers and participants acknowledged the importance of listening in the education of children.

“Showing the example by attitude has more meaning for the youth than the declarations,” concluded Ayoko Bahun-Wilson, West Africa regional coordinator for the WCC-EHAIA. “Religious leaders need to be more present in action rather than in speeches ,” she said.

 

She also encouraged young people, their families and religious leaders to participate in  “All In,” a platform offered by UNAIDS, UNICEF and their partners for action to drive better results for adolescents by encouraging strategic changes in policy and engaging more young people in the effort.

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People of Faith Must Fight Against All Injustice. 12/8/2016

Published by ALCAYACOHORT

Shawanda Jackson

When I think about my time at the 2016 International AIDS Conference there are three words that summarize my experience – Faith, Justice and Action. As a young adult leader who lives and works daily towards the fight against injustice, I was extremely excited and anxious to learn from other movers and shakers who are advocating for human right and freedom for all people. I was excited to go to an unfamiliar place and grow and learn about such an epidemic that is not discussed in the many communities that I am apart of.

The week started with the EAA Interfaith Pre-Conference. At the interfaith conference there were conversations led by people who were living with the disease, people who were researchers, advocators and individuals who in some shape or form are affected by this disease. We discussed the roles that faith leaders and individuals have in the conversations about faith and sexuality. There was discussion about global prevention, treatment targets, new research, global responses to the AIDS response and funding. There was discussion about who are most affected by HIV & AIDS – the vulnerable, transgenders, gays, women between the ages of 15-25,sex workers, drug users, lesbians and youth.  All of these conversations ended with charging us to respect the human rights of all people and  to continue to fight for equality and continuing to respect and always live in love.   

During the interfaith service there was a lighting of candles and reflection in honor of those who have died from this disease and for those who are currently living with HIV. All bodies present lighted a candle and then stuck a red ribbon on a large sheet that displayed every continent. We placed the stickers in areas that represented individuals whom we knew were living with HIV or AIDS. That moment was very emotional and powerful at the same time. It was emotional because we reflected on loved ones who have passed away from a disease that is treatable. It was also emotional for me because in the moment, I reflected  on the youth and individuals who are not informed. I reflected on communities and individuals who don’t have the resources and the opportunities to even gain prevention tools, let alone speak up about their status once diagnosed. That moment was also powerful because those of us in that room and those of us who were at the conference had a responsibility to go back to our many communities and take the knowledge and information that we gained and inform others.

In Scripture there is a constant call to seek justice. I am reminded of this scripture when I think about the many injustices across the world. God instructs us to not only pray, live and teach His word but to also stand up and fight for the end of injustice as well. Having love and faith is only half of what it means to be Christian. The other half is putting our faith and love into action, by fighting for justice. Faith, justice and action go hand-in-hand.

My faith was developed because of the injustice that I experienced and witnessed as a child.  We have to remember that the lack of human rights for some is a fight for us all and being at International AIDS Conference reminded of that.

 

Micah 6:8 says He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

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The Black Church Response to HIV/AIDS: Where Faith Meets Advocacy. 10/8/2016

Published by FROSTILLUSTRATED 

The Rev. Edwin C. Sanders II (left), founder of Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tenn., is working to get more black pastors involved in the fights against AIDS. (Freddie Allen/BAI/NNPA)

The Rev. Edwin C. Sanders II (left), founder of Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tenn., is working to get more black pastors involved in the fights against AIDS. 

It’s no secret that HIV/AIDS advocates and the Black Church have not always seen eye to eye. However, a new faith-based initiative could create more collaboration between those groups than ever before.

The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and UNAIDS have launched a $4 million two-year initiative to strengthen the capacity of faith-based organizations to respond to HIV/AIDS. The effort will focus on five areas: collecting, analyzing and disseminating data; strengthening leadership and advocacy; addressing stigma and discrimination; improving the provision of HIV-related services; and increasing demand for HIV services and ensuring that people remain in care.

“Faith has played a critical role in the trajectory of the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” said Phill Wilson, president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute. “This initiative helps us expand the engagement of faith-based organizations, including those in the U.S., in efforts that are aligned with the UNAIDS and various efforts to end the pandemic.”

The faith-based initiative comes in response to 10 recommendations made by more than 50 faith leaders in April 2015. The United Nations General Assembly, UNAIDS, PEPFAR and Emory University in September 2015 released a report titled, “Building on Firm Foundations” that is based on those recommendations.

Other events have highlighted the faith community’s desire to step up its involvement in the fight against HIV/AIDS. An interfaith service held in June 2016 led to a call to action to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Following the service was a U.N. High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS, in which world leaders adopted a Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS. Their intention: to end the epidemic by 2030.

Religious leaders have also voiced support to PLWHA and members of the LGBT community, who have been disproportionately affected by the disease. For example, in June, Pope Francis said that Christians should apologize to the gay community for the way Christians had treated them in the past.

In February, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, also adopted an accepting posture about the LGBT community. In a letter describing a resolution of the Anglican Synod of Bishops, an advisory body to the pope, Makgoba wrote, “We reaffirm our assurance to them that they are loved by God and that all baptized‚ believing and faithful persons‚ regardless of sexual orientation‚ are full members of the Body of Christ.”

Faith communities across the world have the responsibility to represent those who are affected by HIV/AIDS, particularly those whose voices aren’t being heard, says Manoj Kurian, M.D., coordinator of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance. “As communities of faith, we are powerful. It is important that we utilize this influence to do the right thing, and the right thing is to stand with people who are marginalized.”

Not only does the initiative aim to get clergy involved, but it also wants all members of faith-based institutions to take part. “When we think of faith-based institutions, we, too, often think only of the role of clergy, but laypeople have an enormous role to play in faith institutions,” says Jesse Milan Jr., current chair emeritus and past board chair of the Black AIDS Institute and former president of the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition. “When it comes to HIV/AIDS, we cannot rely exclusively on clergy to lead; we need laypeople to lead as well.”

Milan is working closely with the Rev. Edwin C. Sanders II, founder of Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tenn., and board member of the Black AIDS Institute, to bring Black faith-based institutions on board. One way the duo will do so is by sharing their own personal faith journeys as people of faith in the HIV/AIDS arena, Milan says. “I think the world does not have enough examples of both clergy and laypeople sharing. It’s when our stories are shared that people feel not only touched but inspired about how their own stories can change.”

The effort gives Black faith-based institutions the opportunity to lay out their vision for defeating HIV/AIDS, while also showing that the spiritual community and HIV/AIDS activists are working for the same greater good.

“In this world where we are constantly struggling with the stigma of HIV and the disparities for the black community, the more that we can embrace HIV/AIDS as a justice issue rooted in our personal faith mission, the stronger our efforts can be to break down the stigma and to inspire greater justice in our communities and the world,” Milan said.

Several significant activities took place at the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, around faith. Among them were the Interfaith Pre-Conference on July 16-17, and the Black AIDS Institute’s Faith Webinar and Faith Breakfast Update on July 20.

 

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21st International AIDS Conference, Durban. 4/8/2016

Published by SACBC

Hundreds of journalists present at the 21st International AIDS Conference ensured that the world was kept informed of the developments in scientific research into new drugs and vaccine trials, and of gains made in programmes reducing mother to child transmission of HIV, and of concerns around the adolescent epidemic now being experienced in sub-Saharan Africa.

There were sessions on the need to scale up prevention efforts alongside doubling the numbers of people on treatment, on the dangers of complacency, on TB co-infections and the co-morbidities of non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, cholesterol and diabetes, and certain cancers. The conference looked at why girls in particular are vulnerable to HIV, at how stigma and discrimination is an obstacle to effective prevention and treatment, and at difficulties in treating children. Common themes were the UNAIDS 90 90 90 strategy, where the money will come from to scale up programmes, human rights issues, and providing services to so-called hard-to-reach populations. There were marches and demonstrations led by activists, activities in the Global Village organised by various Non -Governmental Organisations and community organisations, and promotions of drugs and medical supplies by the major pharmaceutical companies.

South Africa was a pariah in 2000 when the International AIDS Conference was first held here; it is now a leader in the response to AIDS on various fronts.

A session on the role of faith communities highlighted some of the difficulties such organizations face in their particular responses to AIDS, as well as at how the faith community response is viewed by others. It was followed by a well-attended inter-faith service at Emmanuel Cathedral, aptly chosen as a venue given the late Archbishop Hurley’s commitment to human rights and to the AIDS agenda. There is a recognition that in the faith community as a whole services are often poorly documented and researched , that faith leaders and community workers need to be more knowledgeable regarding HIV, that the use of sacred texts , the understanding of gender laws and of the concerns of people of different sexual orientations can be problematic. We need gender justice, and we need to break down stigma. UNAIDS and PEPFAR are looking to faith communities to help deliver services to reach the 90 90 90 goals. Faith based organisations provide most of the health care services in some countries. But the world of faith is highly complicated, not homogeneous. Communities of faith need better connections with health care systems. Anglican Archbishop Makgoba suggested that “HIV has exposed gaps in our teaching, and we face a challenge to blend theology and practical implications, a theology of compassion blended with human rights. HIV has challenged the church to break its heart.” Faith leaders and representatives of faith communities are called to particular action in reducing stigma and discrimination, increasing access to health services, defending human rights and ensuring treatment for children.

According to UNAIDS statistics there were 2, 1 million new infections in 2015, bringing to 34 million the number of people infected with HIV and living with AIDS globally. Of these only 17 million are on anti-retroviral treatment, and the challenge is to get another 17 million people on treatment. Daily 4000 people die from TB, a common co-infection with HIV, often not diagnosed and not treated early enough. Men, so-called key populations (which include commercial sex workers, gay people, prisoners and drug users), and young people are missing at every level along the continuum of care and treatment. There are new challenges around HIV in migrant populations. And while between 2000 (when South Africa first hosted an International AIDS Conference) and 2016 there were successes regarding treatment, and in reduction in rates of mother to child transmission, “the face of the epidemic is becoming younger” and there is still “a long way to go to eliminate HIV infections”. (Luis Loures, UNAIDS).

In South Africa there are 7 million people living with HIV. Of these 4 million are women aged 15 and over. Prevalence among adults 14-49 is at 19, 2 %. . The number of children under 14 and living with HIV is less than 250 000. The percentage of orphaned children under the age of 17 is 2,1 %   (cf UNAIDS). We need vaccines, the single most effective tool to prevent HIV transmission, while recognising that vaccine efficacy decreases over time, influenced by “distracting” antibodies. Vaccine trials are “open for business” with a new trial beginning in several countries, including South Africa, later this year.   Some vaccines have failed and some trials have regrettably had to be stopped.

South Africa in partnership with UNICEF is “embarking on the last mile” in the quest to eliminate the transmission of HIV to infants according to Dr Yogan Pillay of the Department of Health. South Africa’s Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission programme has had great successes leading to a great decline in the transmission rate, now at 1,1% at birth. There are 800 000 mothers in support groups on the Mom Connect Programme. Exclusive breast feeding as a means of protecting infants, and adherence on treatment, are being promoted and stigma being addressed. And at the same time children under 15, undiagnosed and untreated, are falling through the cracks.

AIDS is the leading cause of death among adolescents. While today we experience the prevention of mother to child transmission programme gains of the past years, we also experience an HIV cascade among adolescents. Why girls are so vulnerable to HIV infection has been shown to be associated with bacteria in the genital tract which facilitate inflammation and genital tract infection. In Southern Africa men in their 30s are exposing young girls to HIV, the same men themselves infected by women in their thirties. Testing and treatment needs to be scaled up to break the cycle of HIV, and medical male circumcision rolled out to men by the age of 25. Education and the changing of community norms are key. There were passionate pleas for young people and by young people that they not be left out. They want recognition as agents of change and as partners in the fight against AIDS. There were calls for stigma and discrimination to be addressed, for infections in young people to decrease, for more adolescents to go on treatment, for issues of sexuality to be talked about, for support around adherence. Difficulties around treatment because of stigma are real, and drug resistance among adolescents is set to become a major problem.

Aging of people on anti-retroviral treatment and the associated non communicable diseases are also being studies in different countries. People on ARV treatment are living longer, but there are co-morbidities, with cardio-vascular disease seen as a leading cause of death. The need for good nutrition, and exercise, for reducing drug intake, alcohol consumption and obesity, is as important in people living with AIDS as it is in the general population.

A new treatment paradigm is needed. Because it is not easy for someone to take medication daily over the course of a lifetime it is recognised that long acting drugs would help ease the pill burden that many patients struggle with. There are viral reservoirs in the body which never forgets its exposure to HIV. AIDS rebounds within two to three weeks when treatment is stopped no matter how long one has been on treatment. Ideally an infected infant should be started on treatment within 48 hours. HIV latency is a major barrier to treatment in children as is the availability of suitable drugs for children. TB is a leading cause of death among people with AIDS and there is need to start TBHIV treatment quickly. While anti-retroviral treatment prevents TB,  patients should be given drugs for both AIDS and TB to maximise prevention.
There was a number of presentations on the funding needed globally, $ 26 billion a year to end AIDS by 2030 according to some estimates , and alongside that the stark reality of the funding gaps.   73% of the world’s poor live in middle income countries. There were calls for the re- politicization of the AIDS agenda since while we know the solutions (prevention, treatment, adherence, vaccines) governments are aligned to private sector interests; services are privatised and denied to 90% of the people. The next four years, it was said, are critical if AIDS is to end by 2030, and we are not to revert to where we were in 2000 when the benefits of treatment arrested the numbers of deaths amongst people with AIDS.

 

And at the same time governments must deliver on human rights and gender equality and do away with laws that criminalise AIDS. “We need enraged activists,” said Justice Edwin Cameron, and “we have to test, test, test – the gateway to knowledge and treatment.”

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Faith Groups Must Act for Children to “Super Fast Track” Out of HIV, say Experts. 28/7/2016

Published by IACFAITH

aith groups must act for children to “Super Fast Track” out of HIV, sa

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 term “Super Fast Track” is directly related to the UNAIDS “Fast Track” initiative to ensure, by 2020, 90 percent of those living with HIV know their status, 90 percent of those who know they are HIV-positive are receiving treatment, and 90 percent of those receiving treatment are on suppressed viral loads so they are no longer infectious.

“Super Fast Tracking” children does not diminish the Fast Track for adults, explained Kean, senior policy adviser on vulnerable children and HIV and AIDS for World Vision International. “It’s not that adults don’t need a Fast Track but, for children, it’s important to understand the shocking fact that 50 percent of babies and infants living with HIV will die by the age of two.”

And, he added, we are only managing to test and diagnose around 60 percent of the children whose mothers we know are living with HIV. “There are a lot of children we are not even diagnosing. Only half those children are even on treatment.”

The UNAIDS Super Fast Track calls for helping 1.6 million children receive treatment by 2018. “That’s two years from now,” Kean said, “and that’s doubling the number of children on treatment. We can’t do that without a Super Fast Track.”

Reaching this ambitious target is going to require superhuman efforts and unprecedented collaboration, acknowledged leaders from many sectors at the recent International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa.

UNAIDS, the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), Caritas Internationalis, the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, and many other faith-based organizations have pledged to bring resources, expertise and a passion for justice to children who, they insist, deserve a voice in the fight against AIDS.

The voice of the faith community has been critical in establishing a Super Fast Track for children, said Chip Lyons, president and CEO of the EGPAF. “The Super Fast Track is a strategy of UNAIDS that has been improved and advanced, and made even more practical by virtue of the voices of the faith community,” he said. “The Political Declaration approved at the High Level Meeting six weeks ago, that draft document was not good enough for kids.”

But, he added, through “a lot of efforts form the faith community and others,” that document is now a better document for kids than any other political document approved by UN member states, demonstrating what collaboration across public, private and faith-based sectors can bring.

A lot of work, a little time

Even as they acknowledge success in helping to bring about a Super Fast Track initiative for children, faith-based groups and others acknowledged that they have a great deal of work to do in a limited amount of time.

Children need medications better suited to their needs, explained Monsignor Robert J. Vitillo, secretary general of the International Catholic Migration Commission. “Children’s bodies are not the same as adult bodies,” he said. “We are also lacking some of the needed formulations and dosages that are child-friendly.”

Faith-based groups have been collaborating and advocating with representatives from pharmaceutical companies and diagnostic companies to help explain the needs of children, since faith-based groups are often caregivers at a local level, where they see firsthand that lack of medication has a direct effect on children.

“No one sector of society can do this alone — not governments, not the UN, not faith-based organizations,” Vitillo added.

When conducting research and development, pharmaceutical companies start with adults, then move to adolescents, then move to young children, explained Astrid Berner-Rodoreda, HIV policy advisor for the German Protestant development agency Bread for the World. “But in this case the children are the ones who die very quickly.”

Some children are taking adult tablets that have been crushed — an unsafe though diminishing practice, she added. “But now you might have three different bottles of syrup for children, with three different doses. And some need to be refrigerated.”

That is not the ideal way for medication to be administered, she said, so pharmaceutical companies are working on developing dissolvable tablets that can be given with milk.

“On the medicine side, we’ve really seen a lot of progress in the last few years,” said Berner-Rodoreda. But diagnosing HIV in children needs significant improvement as well, she said. Tests are usually administered six weeks after babies are born, and mothers don’t always bring their babies back for testing. Then, if a child is tested, mothers have to come back to and get the results. “We need to work on tests that can be used straight after birth, then the child can be put into treatment straightaway. That would save a lot of lives.”

Faith-based groups also have a key role in reducing stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS, noted Kean. “One of the reasons why mothers don’t bring their babies back is because of stigma. They are quite likely to not come back, particularly if health staff are stigmatizing infants and mothers.”

Advocating for children not always easy

Isn’t saving the lives of children a universal priority? It seems so, but fading attention to HIV and AIDS could be disastrous for children, said Lyons. “The world is pretty rattled these days, whether it’s migration issues, or other disease outbreaks. But AIDS is not over. We have a historic public health opportunity in every country. We have to continue to push.”

Kean agreed that issues surrounding children often seem non-contentious since everyone wants what’s best for the kids. But, he noted, they are often forgotten. There was very little mention of children in the draft political document. “It was a result of advocacy that we brought great attention to children,” he said.

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Catholic AIDS Conference. 26/7/2016

Published by SACBC

The Catholic Pre Conference ahead of the International AIDS Conference in Durban in July heard a message from Pope Francis, read by the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Peter Wells,  encouraging “the Bishops of the region, and those assisting them, to continue facing the challenges associated with HIV&AIDS; in particular he hopes “that this Conference will focus on the vulnerable members of society; including single mothers, orphaned children, and indeed on unborn children who are ‘the most defenceless and innocent among us.’”

Dr Sheila Tlou, former minister of health of Botswana, now at UNAIDS (Southern and Eastern Africa Region), stressed that the world needs to close the gap re new infections if we are is to bring AIDS to an end by 2030.  Otherwise we are “mopping the floor while the tap is running.”  The region has been successful in bringing down the rate of new infections, and in reducing considerably the rates of mother to child transmission.  But issues such as abuse of girls and forced sexual debut, and child marriage in some cultures must be addressed urgently given that “two thirds of new infections are among adolescent girls.”

In Asia, according to Dr Steve Kraus of UNAIDS (Asia Region), two thirds of new infections are among men.  Much of the health care is provided by is by faith based organisations.  There is need, in Asia and elsewhere, to reduce new infections in hard-to reach-populations, including men who have sex with men, prisoners, commercial sex workers and migrants.  “Today’s best advice,” he said “is to start treatment if you are HIV+.”  Recently the Minister of Health in South Africa announced that South Africa’s “test and treat” programme will be launched in September in a plan to scale up the numbers of people on treatment (currently about 3,4 million out of a total of 7 million with HIV infection.) One of the main advantages of the programme is that treatment acts as a form of prevention of transmission of HIV.

Msgr Robert Vitillo of Caritas Internationalis, reported on the High Level Meeting at the United Nations in June, and the contribution made through the Holy See and Caritas Internationalis regarding the work and experience of Church agencies region in the response to children.  While new infections among infants have decreased there are still challenges across the world re child mortality, tuberculosis, access to anti-retroviral drugs, stigma, late initiation on treatment, effective drugs for children, neuro -cognitive impairment and stunting, and stock outs of testing supplies. Bio-medical services are not enough, and the faith community is called to greater commitment in addressing the psycho-social needs of families, providing services at community level, assuring access to treatment, and promoting advocacy and partnerships.

“Testing and treatment without pastoral care will not succeed,” said Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg. The Church has a role to play in advocating for treatment and in facing the challenges regarding hard to reach populations. “We must engage in partnerships with government, helping to deliver holistic care.”  Reminding delegates that “God is always merciful and compassionate, ” he said that central to the Church response is the call to overcome stigma and discrimination. In his reflection on addressing stigma and discrimination, Bishop Frank de Gouveia, Diocese of Oudtshoorn, said, “ In the Year of Mercy we are called to repentance and a sense of solidarity, to examine our pastoral attitudes and the quality of our ministry to others.”  We need, he urged delegates, “to meet people where they are, not where we want them to be since accompaniment comes before moral teaching.” Jenny Boyce-Hlongwa of the Diocese of Mariannhill shared her story and the challenges of being on anti-retroviral  treatment. She doesn’t want young people to be infected and tells her story for the sake of others. For her the sacraments and the knowledge of God’s mercy are powerful. We need, she said, “to make use of the religious health assets we have in our parishes, human and financial.”

Dr Nontando Hadebe of St Augustine College, presenting a paper on Catholic Social Teaching and AIDS made the point that Catholic Social Teaching engages with the context in which we find ourselves.  “Liturgy is meaningless if there is no action for justice. In the AIDS crisis, we are given a framework, and we speak life with our faith. Social Teaching gives us the principles for reflection, the criteria for judgement and directions for action.”  Some of its principles, preference for the poor, dignity, subsidiarity, dignity of work, family life are particularly pertinent. We are challenged to learn, she said, from the experts (UNAIDS, medical science), to judge (theologically) and to act (pastorally and theologically). “In our time the integration of human rights, and of gender is important, and the discourses about what is ‘African’ and ‘un-African’ need to happen since our lives are framed in culture. We have no option except solidarity since all people are in the image of God.”

“AIDS is a social issue, a theological issue, an individual issue,” said Fr Anthony Egan.  We are human beings “with autonomy, with a sense of self, with a sense of responsibility and a duty to respond. We as human beings are affected by the world around us. We must decide how we act ethically, how we make moral judgements, how we see the context, how and why we should act.” We can’t say ‘the bible says...’  We have to focus on the grace of God, not on sin.  We need to be interpreting rules, making a judgement on how we act.  Earlier he had highlighted that stigma is a moral dilemma, a challenge in all religions and cultures.

Catholic delegates attended one joint session with delegates to the Inter-Faith Pre Conference (Super-Fast Track for early diagnosis and treatment of children and adolescents living with HIV) and heard Dr Luis Loures of UNAIDS stress that science won’t do it alone. “The community approach works faster and better.”   But, “we need to break the silence.” Deborah Birx, head of PEPFAR highlighted the important role of Faith Based Organisations in protecting children.  

 

Seventy five delegates participated in the Catholic Pre Conference. It was jointly organised by Caritas Internationalis, Catholic HIV and AIDS Network, the SACBC AIDS Office, CATHCA, and Cabrini Ministries. Delegates attended from Europe, the USA, Australia, and several countries in Africa, and from South Africa.  Some of them also attended the International AIDS Conference the following week.

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AIDS2016 Pushes Faith Communities to Respond to Epidemic’s New Challenges. 25/7/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

AIDS2016 pushes faith communities to respond to epidemic’s new challenges

A popular march through the streets of Durban, South Africa, demanding better funding for HIV and AIDS treatment during the 2016 International AIDS Conference.

The 21st 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.

A biennial event, the 2016 Conference drew thousands of scientists, public-policy professionals, persons living with HIV and activists to Durban, South Africa, for the five-day gathering under the theme “Access Equity Rights Now.”

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.

In the opening plenary, South African actress Charlize Theron declared, “AIDS does not discriminate on its own. It has no biological preference for black bodies, for women’s bodies, for gay bodies, for youth or for the poor. It doesn’t single out the vulnerable, the oppressed, or the abused. We single out the vulnerable, the oppressed, and the abused. We ignore them. We let them suffer. And then, we leave them to die.”

The role of faith communities

As faith leaders from around the world met before and during the conference to reflect on their own role in fighting the epidemic, they were repeatedly praised for the work they’ve done and then challenged to do more.

In an interfaith gathering on the eve of the conference organized by the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA), a top United Nations official warned the religious community that despite fewer people dying every year from AIDS, the wily virus refuses to go away.

“At the same time we are saving more lives than ever, the AIDS epidemic is coming back, it is rebounding and reemerging everywhere. The difference now to what we saw in the past is that the epidemic is much more selective, it’s affecting the ones you faith leaders care most about, the ones left behind, the last and the least in your societies. This is the modern shape of the AIDS epidemic,” said Luiz Loures, the deputy executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and assistant secretary-general of the United Nations.

Loures said the medical and scientific communities need to go beyond traditional approaches as they respond to the new challenges, and faith communities must play a central role.

“It’s not just medicines and what happens in clinical wards and health centers that will solve this crisis. At the end it’s about how we approach people, about ethics, about what brings us together to work for better societies, societies that our children will be proud to live in,” he said.

 

Loures said the churches’ focus on community-based health care usually works “faster and cheaper” than other responses to AIDS, and he praised the closeness of faith communities to affected populations. Loures said the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa proved the churches’ ability to respond quickly.

“Readiness is a new concept. Children who need treatment can’t wait. They’ll die first if we don’t take action. Readiness is related to proximity to people, and during the Ebola crisis the churches’ health workers were on the front lines and paid a high price for taking risks,” he said.

“Don’t be humble. What you have done, the places you have worked, the ones you have lost, you should be proud of all this. Come with us and take the central role you should occupy in our response to AIDS,” Loures said. “We need your experience and your approach to move us forward.”

Fast track to zero

Much of the discussion among religious leaders at the conference centered around how faith-based organizations can contribute to the “Super Fast Track” - a coordinated surge in testing and treatment among children over the next two years. But testing and treatment for adults also remains a critical issue. The UNAIDS “Fast Track” initiative emerges from recognition that if the HIV response only grows at the same rate as it has during the last five years, the epidemic will only grow worse, and hopes of ending AIDS as a significant public health issue by 2030 will quickly fade.

Said Sally Smith, the senior advisor for faith-based organizations at UNAIDS,  “Science and treatment on its own are not enough. We cannot just treat our way out of this epidemic. We need to address the social determinants that are driving the stigma and discrimination to prevent people from getting tested and staying on treatment. We know that the faith communities are central. In many of the countries where we have a high prevalence of HIV, they provide a large proportion of the healthcare. And religious leaders are determinants of what is provided in those health centers. They are also gatekeepers of public opinion about stigma, and they can also mobilize those communities to take up testing and treatment. Or not.”

Scaling up, not slowing down

What many at the conference dubbed “AIDS fatigue” also threatens the world’s response to the disease.

“After 35 years of responding to an emergency, it’s hard to go that last mile,” Smith said. “People in the north and the west have witnessed how the treatment of HIV means the disease no longer rapidly kills people in their teens and 20s and 30s. It has gone off the radar. At the same time there are massive migration issues in Europe and other things grabbing the media’s attention. Responding to AIDS seems like an old issue to many people. Yet it is just at this critical point where we have the medicine and science to end the epidemic as a public health threat, that the interest and the funding are disappearing.”

The Rev. Phumzile Mabizela, executive director of the International Network of Religious Leaders Living With or Personally Affected by HIV & AIDS (INERELA+), said silence has become a major challenge. “Although stigma has been reduced, it’s now silence that is rampant. This type of quiet withdrawal and disengagement is worse than the overt stigma, which we could deal with,” she said.

Offering praise for the contribution of faith-based organizations in preventing mother-to-child transmission of the virus, Ambassador Deborah Birx, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, warned religious leaders that they can’t abandon the children now.

Of particular concern, she said, were girls, “one-third to half of whom are no longer in school because their families can't afford it or because they have to work in a household. And we know that for one-third of young girls in sub-Saharan Africa, their first sex is forced or coerced. So a third of our young women that we've saved from HIV are being raped in their communities. These are the issues that we have to talk about. We have to challenge the culturally accepted practice that girls are not in high school and that young girls are raped within their communities.”

The pastoral challenges

According to the Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge, who coordinates the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (EHAIA) program of the WCC, responding to such challenges will mean retooling how religious communities think about themselves.

“One of the things we have done well as faith-based organizations is outreach, but we haven’t done nearly enough in-reach,” she said. “Has the work we are doing transformed our theologies?”

Njoroge pushed religious leaders present in Durban to also strengthen their pastoral support for survivors of abuse. “We need intergenerational communication on sex and sexuality between parents and children and grandparents,” she said. “We address sexual and gender violence and yet we lack the skills to support the survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, especially the girls who are raped and end up with HIV. This is a major gap for us, and demands long-term commitment and accompaniment.”

Religion, sex workers, and drug users: no casting stones

Among the religious leaders attending the conference was Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town. He stopped by the Interfaith Networking Zone in the conference’s Global Village on July 19, chatted with people there, but then needed to leave for a press conference.

The Global Village was a wild maze of displays, booths and discussion areas sponsored by special interest groups representing all sorts of people touched by AIDS. Right across from the interfaith area was the Sex Workers Networking Zone. Makgoba stopped there and introduced himself to the women.

Among those who shook hands and spoke with the archbishop was Babalwa Matikinca, an educator who runs support groups in the Eastern Cape for the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force (SWEAT). She says the church needs to cross into their world more often.

“Sex workers are often operating in hideaway zones, their work unknown to their family because there is a lot of stigma. They feel alone. The church should be a place where they can find comfort and support to help them cope. Just like Jesus, who, when people wanted to stone a sex worker, said that only those who hadn’t sinned could do it,” she said. “Jesus loves these women. His church should be a place where they feel welcome. They are responsible women, working hard to support their families.”

Makgoba’s visit provoked some new conversations. Lyn van Rooyen, director of the Christian AIDS Bureau of Southern Africa, sat down to talk with some of the women the archbishop had met, and they agreed to a series of future encounters between sex workers and pastoral agents.

Sex workers, along with injecting drug users and men who have sex with men, are a key demographic in the struggle against AIDS. Stigmatizing or criminalizing them is widely seen as counterproductive, yet for some religious leaders with narrow limits on acceptable behavior, reaching out to these and others at the margins has stretched their understandings of sin and grace. Crossing from their religious space to the world where real people struggle isn’t easy.

 

God, however, would appear to have already made the journey. The SWEAT office in Cape Town already has a weekly support group for Christian sex workers, where participants share their struggles and pray for each other. The women run the group themselves.

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Making HIV/AIDS a Church Priority. 21/7/2016

Published by GOODNEWSMAG

Bishop Gregory Palmer (left) speaks with the Rev. Donald E. Messer at AIDS event. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

Bishop Gregory Palmer (left) speaks with the Rev. Donald E. Messer at AIDS event. 

In a world where 37 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, a budget of $62,000 for the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund is “a sin, a scandal, an embarrassment, and a shame” said Bishop Gregory Palmer at a fund event on the day before General Conference began in Portland.

“I think the theme of this event says it all: AIDS is not over yet,” said the Rev. Don Messer, who has been working to raise funds for AIDS since the 2004 United Methodist General Conference approved the Global AIDS Fund. The church at that time committed to raise $3 million through apportionments and match it with an additional $5 million through Advance gifts.

The fund has raised over $3.5 million as of today and the money has gone to 284 projects in 44 countries, he said. “We can do more; we must not leave this General Conference lacking the resources we need to do this work,” Palmer said.

Joyce Torio, an AIDS advocate from the Philippines, said there are 22 new cases of HIV/AIDS every day in her country. “It is projected we will have 133,000 infected by 2022. One in four young people from the ages of 15-24 have HIV/AIDS.” AIDS education is a top priority, she said. “We need to go to the villages, churches, and schools.”

In a workshop on preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, Colette “Coco” Ramazani from the Democratic Republic of Congo told her story of getting HIV/AIDS when she was raped by her employer on her first job. She was also a victim of rape by soldiers and a Pentecostal pastor. She escaped to the U.S. and told her story in a book, “Tell This to My Mother,” by Joseph Mwantuali.

“I wished for death every day of my life but I am still breathing,” she said. “This is personal for me because I have wanted to be a mother since I was a child. I must be the last one (to get AIDS).”

We are still trying to wake a sleeping church, Messer said. “We have the capacity to end AIDS in our lifetime, but we will not do that as long as the church remains silent and apathetic, as long as education and messages of care and prevention are not shared with all the people of the world.”

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Faith-Based Groups Vow to Create Even More Safe Spaces for People Living with HIV. 18/7/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

 aith-based groups vow to create even more safe spaces for people livin

“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.

“We as people of faith have to change our approach and strategy. I recommend a three pronged triple “P” approach which stands for prophet, people and a plan. The prophet Micah tells us what God requires of us: to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. We as the people of faith get it wrong because we love justice but we do mercy; we should focus on justice and how we bring justice to the world,” said Milan.

He went on to expound on how religious organisations can find their relevance only by expressing it within local communities.

The moderator of the session, Julian Hows, who has lived with HIV for more than 25 years and works with the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) noted: “To end AIDS deaths by 2030, we need to address the stigma that keeps people from testing, keeps them from taking their medication and keeps them from disclosing their statuses.”

Although FBOs have helped reach 50% of the people living with HIV who have tested and are on antiretrovirals, further outreach is dogged by numerous gaps.

“The 50% we have not reached represents people with whom we are not comfortable. we have not been affirming of human sexuality as we should be and this represents a major gap,” Hows said.

This further amplified the UNAIDS mantra to leave no one behind.

The youth, especially young women and girls, are also viewed as a key population that needs special focus going forward. The role of the family in helping to bridge some of the gaps, especially stigma, was emphasized.

“Around the term treatment, the gap between the pulpit and the parent was the stigma that I feared the most; this was the potential gap between my father, my mother and I. The message from the pulpit to the parents should be how to love their children when they come out as homosexual or disclose their HIV status,” Milan said.

“The home should be the safest place and if the message from the pulpit alienates parents from their children then that stigma never goes always. It stays in one’s heart.”

The FBOs were encouraged to develop safe spaces in faith communities that encourage better communication between parents and children as well as between couples. Intergenerational conversations between congregations and their communities and intersectional conversations between clergy and lay people to propagate effective work within and outside congregations were also promoted.

Linked to this was the lack of youth sensitive clinics and comprehensive sexuality education and information for the youth especially the girls who have been identified as being more vulnerable to infection.

Rev. Phumzile Mabizela, executive director of INERELA+, challenged those gathered to do more about gender-based violence. “We are not addressing the critical drivers of the virus; issues like vulnerability to gender-based violence and our teachings do not promote love and compassion,” she said. INERELA+ is an international, interfaith network of religious leaders who are living with or personally affected by HIV.

“One of the things we have done well as FBOs is outreach, however, we have not done nearly enough ‘in-reach.’ Has the work we are doing transformed our theologies?”

Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge, coordinator the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy, urged the participants gathered to move beyond just dealing with gender-based violence as a driver of the HIV pandemic to supporting the victims of this abuse.

“We need intergenerational communication on sex and sexuality between parents and children and grandparents. We address sexual and gender violence and yet we lack the skills to support the survivors of sexual and gender-based violence especially the girls who are raped and end up with HIV. This is a major gap and speaks long-term commitment and accompaniment. Sexual violence is a deep- seated wound that lasts for a long time.”

The courage to act on the convictions FBOs so easily speak about but struggle to act on, was also identified as one of the missing pieces in the puzzle of attaining an AIDS-free generation. For the faith communities to win the war against HIV, they must be courageous and work outside the box. This is one of the ways through which the disconnect between the theoretical and the practical can be breached in the fight to end AIDS.

The faith community acknowledged the existence of “faith fatigue” within their ranks which has led to some backtracking. Partnerships were hailed as a means to reinvigorate, and draw strength from each other.

In concluding the session, Hows charted a way forward: “The role of the church and FBOs moving forward is to find innovative ways on how to work with religious leaders in order to make places of worship more welcoming spaces; all our work has to be guided by people’s experiences. We need to tell their stories and make the process bottom-up rather than prescriptive.”

 

“As FBOs, you need to do more of what you are already doing well in relation to the identified gaps. We are fighting AIDS. HIV will be with us for a long time to come; we can all live with HIV, but people die of AIDS.”

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India’s Lutheran Churches Fight AIDS Stigma. 21/7/2016

Published by THELUTHERANWORLD

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Perceptions are changing about the church and people living with HIV

(LWI) - India’s Lutheran churches are reaching out to people living with HIV in a context in which the epidemic is slowing down but poverty and stigma pose major challenges.

“The people are afraid to attend the voluntary blood testing camps, thinking that if their status is revealed they may face discrimination and lose their jobs, which will lead to further poverty. They also fear segregation from their families,” says Beryl Logan, coordinator of the HIV and AIDS desk at the United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India (UELCI).

India’s HIV infection rate has declined since 2005, with the proportionately low prevalence of 0.3 percent in 2013 accounting for 2.1 million people living with the virus, according to the United Nations AIDS body, UNAIDS. In addition, the 130,000 AIDS associated deaths three years ago counted for more than half of such lives lost in the entire Asian region.

The main factors contributing to HIV infections in the country of 1.3 billion are extensive migration as people, mainly male, move to urban centers looking for employment, low literacy levels in certain rural areas and gender disparity.

The blood testing camps are part of the HIV and AIDS Awareness, Care and Capacity Building program of the 12 Lutheran churches that make up UELCI. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) supports its member churches’ program, which includes four counselling centers in the Tamil, Telugu and Hindi-speaking regions and home visits to remote villages without access to public health centers. In addition, the outlets provide training for nurses and paramedical staff, distribute information to the villagers, host AIDS’ awareness rallies, educational puppet shows and video documentaries about the disease.

The program activities are changing perceptions about the church and the people affected by HIV, Logan says. “The communities in which we work increasingly see a church that is building and strengthening capacity of all people: pastors, women, lay leaders, youth, school and college students, as well as factory laborers, lorry drivers, and commercial sex workers through outreach and peer to peer education.”

 

In our work, we emphasize liberation of the excluded people and affirm that stigma based on health issues has no place in human relationships. — Beryl Logan, HIV and AIDS coordinator, United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India

 

The UELCI began active engagement in AIDS work in 1989. In 2015 the body of 4.5 million Lutherans supported 12,865 people living with or affected by HIV.

LWF AIDS handbook

The church has translated the LWF HIV and AIDS handbook Grace, Care and Justice into the widely spoken Hindi, Tamil and Telugu languages “because this is a useful resource that deals with all the issues about the pandemic: prevention, transmission and care provision,” Logan explains. “We have distributed this publication to all the member churches and those trained by our program are using it during meetings with the local people.”

She says one of the greatest challenges is how to deconstruct the strong belief in Indian society that the AIDS pandemic is caused by people who engage in illicit sexual relationships or immoral living. “Several people in the churches even use the Bible to justify the exclusion of people living with HIV,” Logan says. “In our work, we emphasize liberation of the excluded people and affirm that stigma based on health issues has no place in human relationships,” she adds.

Access to treatment and care

Around six percent of people living with HIV in India receive free government treatment including antiretroviral or ARV medication. But changes in the public health delivery system are likely to put off many who require such services, according to Logan. Until recently, volunteers could collect medication on behalf of affected persons but new regulations require patients to collect the ARV drugs in person. “This move is very problematic. It will further marginalize those who could not afford to get to distant health centers or avoided going there altogether because they feared exposing their AIDS status and facing ridicule and discrimination in society,” she says.

The UELCI AIDS desk coordinator is in Durban, South Africa in mid-July, as one of the LWF delegates at the 21st International AIDS Conference. She hopes the gathering and its Interfaith Pre-Conference will be an opportunity to learn how others are dealing with the challenges faced by AIDS patients and those who support them.

 

Logan says the theme of the conference, “Access equity rights now,” is timely. “It demands the collective action of faith-based communities in overcoming the perceptions and practices that perpetuate marginalization of people living with HIV,” she adds.

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Faith-Based Organizations and Communities are Central to the Super Fast-Track Response for Children. 17/7/2016

Published by UNAIDS

The ambitious targets in the 2016 United Nations Political Declaration on Ending AIDS to treat children living with HIV and eliminate new HIV infections among children and adolescents need urgent and concerted efforts. Faith-based organizations and community efforts will be central to the response.

More than 250 people have participated in two faith-based organization preconference sessions in advance of the 21st International AIDS Conference, which will take place in Durban, South Africa, from 18 to 22 July.

Luiz Loures, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Deborah Birx, United States Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy, and Anil Soni, Vice-President of the pharmaceutical company Mylan, joined representatives of faith-based organizations to galvanize joint action and develop more timely and effective responses to the needs of children.

Speakers highlighted the planned implementation of the super Fast-Track response for children through faith-based organizations, which have extensive health and support networks, in particular among hard-to-reach populations. The super Fast-Track response aims to ensure healthy and productive lives for children living with HIV through access to child-friendly diagnostic tools and antiretroviral medicines.

Quotes

“By 2020–2030 we will have 100% more young people and adolescents than we had in 1990–2000. This is the group that is now at risk. We will invest in programmes to ensure that adolescents receive the information they need to remain HIV free.”

Deborah Birx United States Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy

“More lives are being saved today than ever before. However, there is still a lot of work to be done. More than ever we need the experience of the faith-based organizations.”

Luiz Loures UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director

“There has to be commitment to develop the very specific treatments and medications needed by children living with HIV. Treatment providers and industry can come together to identify shared solutions.”

Anil Soni Vice-President, Mylan

“The Catholic Relief Services AIDS programme has strengthened human resource capacity to over 30 000 staff, built staff capacity in data collection to provide accurate data and mobilized communities to improve adherence.”

Mwayabo Jean Claude Kazadi Global Senior Technical Adviser, Catholic Relief Services

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Voices from HIV Workshop Reflect Deep Impact 07/04/2016

Published at

07 April 2016

As participants in a workshop on HIV offered their personal reflections, they shared how their hearts have been deepened and changed by a dialogue facilitated by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).

The women participants, from all over the country, are clergy, lay leaders, theologians and seminarians from NCCP member churches. Some are living with HIV. They affirmed that the contextual Bible study (CBS) approach taught them how to study the Bible and relate it to the present context. They also shared how a pro-SAVE (Safer practices, Access to treatment, Voluntary Counseling and Testing, Empowerment) approach helped widen their perspective even further.

“I realized that HIV is not all about homosexuality. Sexuality must be studied more because, in the Filipino context, most people are in denial regarding this issue. It is one of the basics talking about HIV and AIDS to inspire and encourage vulnerable people to embrace them with love and acceptance and to bring God’s hope through this issue,” said a pastor from the United Methodist Church (UMC).

“It is easy to say how you have been stigmatized but is hard to answer how you have stigmatized others,” added a lay leader from the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches (CPBC).

“Bible studies challenged me as a church worker — helped me to think deeper and lead me to other ideas and new perspectives that opened my heart and mind,” said a lay leader from the Lutheran Church in the Philippines.

Women’s rights in focus

Participants said CBS helped them understand women’s rights in the context of their faith.

“Before, I know that women should be under the roof of a man’s power. There are certain limitations to what women can do, but for me it is totally different. I see that I have both done things which are suppressing what I can do as a woman. Now it is changed that there should be no hindrance to do things you want no matter what your gender is,” said a UMC lay leader.

A woman living with HIV agreed that women are strong enough to alleviate discrimination, stigma, oppression permanently but needed to be empowered and educated on their rights.

For a seminarian from the Episcopal Church in the Philippines (ECP), “Jesus revolutionized the role of women even during a time of acute patriarchy. It is refreshing to know that He is on the side of suffering women all along.”

Understanding LGBTI people

CBS and SAVE approach sessions also highlighted the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people.

Part of the sessions conducted were the alternative approach to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah that suggested a fresh reading based on literary analysis of the Hebrew text and the contextual bible study on Judges 19:1-30 that aimed to recognize diverse male sexualities and to challenge gender-based violence.

“I really don’t have problems with LGBTI people. What bothers me most is how other people treat them. After the workshop I really have the best wish I could beg that people will open their eyes to them; they should be left open and accepted,” said a youth leader from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).

The sessions allowed participants to affirm the diversity of human sexuality.

“A person does not choose what he or she feels. Whether we are attracted to a man or a woman, it is not a problem to fix. God created us beautiful and wonderful,” said a UMC pastor.

“They are also humans and they are also created in the image of God. Sex organs do not determine our sexual and gender orientation,” added another youth leader from UCCP.

For a seminarian from the Iglesias Filipina Independiente: “All I know is there is nothing wrong in love, no matter who you are.”

Compassion for people living with HIV

“Before I considered people living with HIV as unfortunate. The situation of people living with HIV is a call to church that we must take an action to save more lives and that salvation of people living on heart is the priority and a mission of Christ,” said a lay leader from Iglesia Evangelica Metodista En Las Islas Filipinas.

A pastor from CPBC added that “it is not a punishment for them. Respect and understand them like Jesus did with marginalized people.”

Participants affirmed that people living with HIV are not to be isolated.

“… they should be the ones we help and encourage to stand firm and be comfortable and also to accept them as one of a whole part of us,” said seminarian from ECP.

World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative and Advocacy

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AIDS 2016: Faith Groups Take “Fast Track” in HIV Response. 13/7/2016

Published by

IDS 2016: Faith groups take “Fast Track” in HIV response

Representatives of faith-based organizations and communities will gather 16-17 July in Durban, South Africa for an interfaith pre-conference, “Faith on the Fast Track: Reducing Stigma and Discrimination, Increasing Access, and Defending Human Rights – NOW!”

The interfaith conference takes place in advance of AIDS 2016, the 21stInternational AIDS Conference, which will be held 18-22 July in Durban, South Africa: www.aids2016.org

Coverage of faith-based participation: www.iacfaith.org

Twitter: #FaithAIDS2016

Pre-conference sessions open to the media

The interfaith pre-conference will feature four plenary sessions as well as workshops. All plenaries will be open to registered media (media registration available on-site). Media access to workshops is determined by the workshop organizer.

(all times shown are local South Africa Time)

Saturday, 16 July 9:30-11:00 am

Opening Plenary: Faith on the Fast Track

Speakers include:

  • Dr César Antonio Núñez, M.D. MPH Director of UNAIDS Latin American & Caribbean
  • Ms Faghmeda Miller – first Muslim woman in South Africa to declare her HIV-positive status
  • Ms Laichhuanzuali “CZ” Ralte, winner of the 2015 World YWCA Mary Robinson Award for Human Rights for her advocacy in India as a young woman living with HIV

Saturday, 16 July 4:00 -5:30 pm

Joint plenary with Catholic Pre-Conference: Super-Fast Track for early diagnosis and treatment of children and adolescents living with HIV

Speakers include:

  •  Dr Luiz Loures, deputy executive director of UNAIDS and assistant secretary-general of the United Nations
  • Ambassador Deborah L. Birx, coordinator of the United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS and U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy
  •   Mr Anil Soni, Head of Global Infectious Disease, Mylan
  • Anthony Egan SJ, professor of moral and political theology, St Augustine College, Johannesburg
  •  Dr Mwayabo Jean Claude Kazadi, global senior technical advisor-HIV & HSS, PIQA, Catholic Relief Service
  • Moderator: Msgr. Robert Vitillo, secretary general, International Catholic Migration Commission

Sunday, 17 July: 9:30-10:30 am

Dialogue Plenary

Speakers includes:        

  • Rev JP Mokgethi-Heath, policy advisor on HIV and theology, Church of Sweden
  • Imam Muhsin Hendricks, Imam and executive director, The Inner Circle
  • Dr Asavari Herwadkar, director, Ojus Medical Institute (OMI), Mumbai - India
  • Ms Azza Karam, senior advisor, Multi-Lateral Affairs Branch, UN Population Fund (UNFPA); coordinator, UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and Development
  • Ms Linda Mafu, head of Civil Society and Political Advocacy at the Global Fund
  • Ms Benter Adhiambo Ooko, YWCA  Kenya
  • Moderator: Mr Julian Hows, Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+)

Sunday, 17 July: 3:30 – 5:00 pm

Closing Plenary - Faith on the Fast Track - Faith Communities Recommit

Speakers include:

  • Rev Edwin Sanders – senior servant and founder, Metropolitan Interdenominational Church, Nashville Tennessee, USA
  •  Ms Melodie Jongwe - YWCA Zambia
  • Dr Manoj Kurian, coordinator, World Council of Churches – Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance
  • Dr Ulrich Nitschke, head of Sector Program Values, Religion and Development, head of PaRD Secretariat/International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development
  • Ms Sally Smith, senior adviser UNAIDS, Community Mobilization, FBOs
  •  Rev Phumzile Mabizela – executive director INERELA+
  • Moderator: Dr. Jill Olivier, senior lecturer & research coordinator, University of Cape Town; Health Policy and Systems Division, School of Public Health and Family Medicine

Please click to download the full Faith on the Fast Track Programme (pdf, 195 KB).

The interfaith pre-conference is being held at La Vita Conference Centre (Oceanic), 20 John McIntyre Rod, Snell Parade, Durban 4001.

For more information or to request interviews with faith-based representatives, please contact Sara Speicher, coordinator of the AIDS 2016 Ecumenical Media Team at ssp@wcc-coe.org, +44.7821.860.723 (until 15 July) or  +27.71.206.3427 (15-22 July). Or contact Marianne Ejdersten, WCC director of communication, mej@wcc-coe.org, +41.79.507.6363

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AIDS 2016: “Stigma kills more people than HIV”. 17/7/2016

Published by IACFAITH

IDS 2016: “Stigma kills more people than HIV”

Faith pre-conference hears challenges in the AIDS response. © Albin Hillert/WCC

More than 150 people attending the interfaith pre-conference, which opened today 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 clarion call to the faith representatives echoed by all speakers in the opening plenary is to join hands and accelerate all HIV interventions so that more people are tested and treated, with greater respect and promotion of all human rights so as to reduce new infections.

New infections, which for awhile had plateaued, have started to rise alarmingly, according to a UNAIDS report presented by Cesar Antonio Nunex, director of UNAIDS Latin America  and Caribbean.

“Progress has stagnated. There are even increases in several regions of the world,” he warned.

Nunex highlighted the wide variety of services provided by faith-based organizations (FBOs) and noted that up to 50% of care and support for people living with HIV, which makes up  approximately one-fourth of all HIV treatment and care, is provided by FBOs. These organizations are critical partners in the next five years, to scale up and accelerate this work focusing on using innovative methodology to hasten implementation, local and macro-level change so as to reach 90% of persons living with HIV and to put them all on treatment that allows them to have suppressed viral loads.

Nunex also identified “sticky floors” which appear to hold the faith community back from a full response, such as the label of homophobia, which doesn’t recognize the tremendous work in support of stigmatized and marginalized people living with HIV. Rights language, he also acknowledged, sometimes generates resistance among religious communities.

Faghmeda Miller, a health promoter/counsellor at the University of the Western Cape and the only Muslim woman openly living with HIV in South Africa particularly challenged participants to be the agents of change.

“In my 22 years of living openly with HIV, people like myself continue to be discriminated against. Although antiretrovirals (ARVs) are now available at clinics, they are not accessible to all because the clinics are HIV-unfriendly places,” she said.

“Religious leaders who have the potential to play a major role in spreading the correct information and using their premises for the distribution of ARVs have become immune to the HIV pandemic except on World Aids Day,” Miller stated.

“We cannot look the other way whilst people living with HIV die - we need to start talking about HIV and stop labelling people. A person can live long with the virus; what is killing us is the stigma attached to the virus. Stigma kills more people than HIV and AIDS.”

The final speaker moved participants with her personal story. Twenty-five-year-old, Nadege Uwase Munyaburanga has lived with HIV all her life, but found out she was positive at 16.

“I’ve learnt how to forgive my parents who love me dearly, and I am committed to achieving my dreams as a scientist and not just be defined as a young woman living with HIV,” she said

Working through the YWCA, Munyaburanga is committed to helping create safe spaces for young people.

“Psychosocial and emotional support are integral for youth acceptance of their HIV status to avert feelings of self-hatred, stigma and self -justified revenge,” she said.

The presence of more than 50 percent women parliamentarians in Rwanda has helped that country with gender justice issues which, in turn, help young women like Munyaburanga to thrive.

 

The interfaith pre-conference is being held 16-17 July at the La Vita Conference Center in Durban, South Africa. The conference is being held in advance of AIDS 2016 which opens on 18 July.

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Churches Recommit to Accelerate HIV Response. 28/6/2017

Published by OIKOUMENE

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We, as members of the central committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the ecumenical partners present, write to you as fellow pilgrims in our journey for justice and peace. During our prayerful deliberations in our meeting in Trondheim, Norway, we reaffirmed with joy that God’s love is for every person, regardless of HIV status. We were reminded of the depth and breadth of the churches’ response to HIV since the beginning of the pandemic and affirm that we journey together with people living with HIV in our faith communities and beyond. We are urged by the love of Christ to step beyond what is comfortable or convenient, particularly when reaching out to those who live on the margins of society and our theologies.

This year is significant in the global response to the pandemic, with new Sustainable Development Goals framing international responses to the vast injustices in our communities and in the world. A new United Nations political declaration on HIV has set vital commitments for governments for an intensified effort to end AIDS. But such efforts alone are not enough.

As the World Council of Churches, with our ecumenical partners and all people of good will, we are compelled to contribute to “End AIDS by 2030”. For us this means accompanying people and communities living with, or vulnerable to HIV every day, every month, every year until AIDS has been overcome.

Remembering and reflecting

The HIV pandemic is now in its fourth decade. Since 1984 the WCC has been actively involved in responding to the pandemic, promoting reflection among member churches, providing pastoral accompaniment and empowering advocacy and action. In 1986 the WCC executive committee prophetically stated - “AIDS challenges us profoundly to be the Church in deed and in truth: to be the Church as a healing community. AIDS is heart-breaking and challenges the churches to break their own hearts, to repent of inactivity and of rigid moralisms.” They also affirmed and supported the entire medical and research community in its efforts to combat the disease.[1]

In 1996, the WCC central committee reminded churches to recognize the link between AIDS and poverty, and to promote just and sustainable development and to give special attention to situations that increase the vulnerability to AIDS. In particular, churches were asked to work with women as they seek to attain the full measure of their dignity and express the full range of their gifts. Churches were reminded to educate and involve youth and men in order to prevent the spread of HIV. Churches were also invoked to understand more fully the gift of human sexuality in the contexts of personal responsibility, relationships, family and Christian faith. The central committee asked the churches to address the pandemic of drug use and the role this plays in the spread of HIV and to develop locally relevant responses in terms of care, addiction treatment, rehabilitation and prevention.[2]

The WCC central committee meeting on 6 September 2006 in Geneva, reviewed the work of the ecumenical movement in relation to HIV and recommitted the churches to become more compassionate and competent in the response to HIV and AIDS. The WCC central committee also exhorted faith-based communities to advocate that antiretroviral treatments as well as treatment for other opportunistic infections be made available and accessible to all. The leadership of the churches were encouraged to exercise their role as advocates for just policies and to hold governments accountable to their promises.[3] This year, 2016, the ecumenical journey with HIV since 1984 has been captured in the book, Passion and Compassion, The Ecumenical Journey with HIV.

HIV has been, and continues to be, a great teacher to all sectors of society.[4] It has been widely acknowledged that the response has been like no other. People living with HIV have played a fundamental role in the response and demonstrated that the leadership and involvement of those most affected is critical in addressing root causes and implementing effective solutions. The pandemic has shed light on the multi-faceted root causes and injustices driving HIV. These include stigma, discrimination, sexual and gender-based violence, gender inequalities and abuse of power and betrayal of trust. Economic disparities promote and perpetuate an environment of social evils in which HIV transmission thrives. In the HIV response, considerable efforts have been made to focus on people and their needs, and through unprecedented collaboration across all sectors of society, there have been extraordinary results on prevention, treatment, care, and support. The pandemic has rejuvenated the appreciation that faith plays a critical role in health and healing, as well as the recognition of health as a human right.

Today, almost 16 million people are on treatment. This great success is the result of concerted efforts by all sectors and their dedication to work toward the United Nations Millennium Development Goal 6. However, the HIV pandemic is far from over.

HIV remains one of the most critical areas needing intervention today. Currently 21 million people have no access to treatment of HIV and almost half of the 37 million people living with HIV do not even know they are HIV-positive. AIDS-related illnesses are now the leading cause of death for adolescents in Africa. Cumulative AIDS-related deaths of more than 30 million grow by more than 1 million every year. In addition, more than 2 million people are newly infected annually. Of these, more than 5,000 young girls and women are infected with HIV in southern Africa every week. We are facing the catastrophe of 6 million AIDS-related orphans, and this figure is growing. Despite all the medical advances in prevention of mother to child transmission, 220,000 children became newly infected in 2014. Children living with HIV have far less access to treatment than adults. Further evidence shows that globally, in 2013, 1.6 million people living with HIV were affected by humanitarian emergencies, particularly violence and conflict, with more than 80% of those affected in sub-Saharan Africa. These statistics, which carry untold stories of loss, pain and incredible hardship, are intolerable and demand a faithful and sustained response from the faith community.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we acknowledge that some faith-based responses - in common with reactions in the society in general - have been counter-productive to the response by exacerbating stigma, fostering misinformation, and being silent on issues of vulnerability. Yet we also acknowledge that churches and their health-related services have provided compassionate care, treatment and support, often among the poor and most vulnerable. Over the years, WCC member churches, their theological institutions and ecumenical partners have also provided vital leadership in contextual theological and biblical reflections, production and distribution of theological literature, liturgies and manuals. Through their multi-faceted response, churches have proclaimed that HIV is not just a medical issue. Rather it is a social reality that demands in-depth biblical and theological grounding and life-giving theologies embodying justice, healing, peace and fullness of life.

The ecumenical movement has been committed to and continues to nurture a full spectrum of engagement with HIV, ranging from accompaniment, reflection, action and advocacy. Two critically important ecumenical initiatives of the WCC are the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA since 2000) and the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (EHAIA since 2002).

The WCC-EHAIA has focused on accompaniment and capacity building. It seeks to promote HIV competence and advocacy among churches and works with theological institutions to integrate HIV into theological curricula. It produces theological literature which promotes life-affirming theologies, addresses the root causes of vulnerability to HIV including gender inequalities, sexual and gender-based violence, and promotes intergenerational dialogue on sex and sexuality. The use of contextual Bible studies has been a key methodology.

The WCC-EAA is an international network of churches and church-related organizations committed to campaigning together on common concerns. HIV was identified at its founding as one of the two pressing issues around which to do global advocacy. The campaign on HIV, called “Live the Promise”, addresses stigma and discrimination, advocates universal access to treatment, tackles political and legal barriers that limit access and deny rights for people living with HIV, promotes sufficient and sustainable resourcing, and encourages accountability of governments and churches. The alliance equips churches and ensures that they have the much-needed capacity to undertake this advocacy.

The ecumenical movement also ensured the greater and meaningful participation of people living with HIV in all HIV-related discussions and policy development and programme implementation. WCC developed a workplace policy in 2005, to assist member churches and ecumenical organizations to update their polices to ensure that people living with HIV are protected in institutions associated with churches and related organizations.[5] Recognizing the need and importance of people living with HIV to develop their own organizations, caucuses and networks – both in the secular and the religious contexts the ecumenical movement accompanied the formation and development of the African Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (ANERELA+), and later the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV (INERELA+). WCC also developed critical background information and guidelines for member churches and ecumenical organizations to equip them for developing partnerships with networks of people living with HIV.[6]

Call to action

It is vital that in the coming years the WCC member churches and their ecumenical partners increase their efforts to defeat the root causes of the transmission of HIV and AIDS and continue their, advocacy, accompaniment and spiritual support of people living with HIV. Since the churches were part of the process of articulating the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in September 2015, a clear map has been charted by the United Nations to reach the end of AIDS by 2030. To achieve this, interim goals have been set for 2020. These goals include that at least 90% of people living with HIV know their HIV status; 90% of those who know their status have access to treatment; and 90% of those on treatment have an undetectable viral load – meaning there is virtually no risk of HIV transmission. Consequently, the scale up of service in the next four years is critical. Without the significant support and mobilization of the faith community, this will not be achieved.

The international community, acknowledging the critical role of the faith response, has called upon faith communities to respond with a renewed sense of urgency. As people of faith, we are also called by God to facilitate “life in abundance” for all God’s people. We are compelled by our commitment to God and God’s people to heed these calls.

On our Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, we call upon WCC member churches, ecumenical partners, and people of goodwill to:

Lead by example:

In getting tested

In seeing God in the other and particularly in the people on the margins of society

In living lives which respect the dignity of the weak and vulnerable

In creating safe spaces of grace in our churches and communities where people will feel welcomed, protected, affirmed and accepted

By working closely with Christian health care providers

Provide for those in need by:

Facilitating knowledge and the environment for people of all ages to protect themselves from infection

Offering comprehensive care which includes pastoral, medical, spiritual and nutritional support

Making our health care and educational facilities welcoming and safe spaces for those living with and vulnerable to HIV

Use our prophetic voice by:

Speaking with and for those suffering injustice and exclusion

Speaking out against stigma and discrimination at every level of society, including, our own churches

Promoting theology and church practice that affirms a good and holistic understanding of sexuality and human relations.

Speaking against laws which create vulnerability to HIV

Holding governments accountable to the sustainable development goals and the commitments made in the 2016 United Nations political declaration on HIV

Advocating for expanded access to comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment, care and support

Challenging corporations and industry to operate morally by enabling access to affordable, quality diagnostics and medication for all.

We commit to these actions as individuals in the WCC central committee and the ecumenical partners present, in prayerful reliance on the wisdom and the strength of the God of Life, and we ask you to join us in this commitment. “We are a fellowship on the move, a community of pilgrims. We journey together towards life in all its fullness. We pray for God’s guidance and inspiration, so that our pilgrimage will open us to one another through dynamic and creative interaction for justice. God of life, lead us to be living instruments of your justice and peace! ”[7]Trondheim 28 June, 2016

 

The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches

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Les Églises se Réengagent à Accélérer la Lutte Contre le VIH. 28/6/2016

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Faisons le bien sans défaillance; car, au temps voulu, nous récolterons si nous ne nous relâchons pas. (Galates 6,9)

Chers frères et sœurs en Christ,

Nous, membres du Comité central du Conseil œcuménique des Églises (COE) et partenaires œcuméniques présents, vous écrivons en tant que compagnons de pèlerinage dans notre marche vers la justice et la paix. Au cours de nos délibérations, conduites dans la prière, lors de notre rencontre à Trondheim, en Norvège, nous avons réaffirmé avec joie que l’amour de Dieu est destiné à toute personne, qu’elle soit séropositive ou non. Il nous a été rappelé la profondeur et l’ampleur de la lutte des Églises contre le VIH depuis le début de la pandémie et nous affirmons que nous cheminons, au sein de nos communautés de foi et au-delà, avec des personnes vivant avec le VIH. L’amour du Christ nous pousse au-delà du confort ou de la commodité, en particulier lorsque nous aidons ceux qui vivent en marge de la société et de nos théologies.

Cette année est importante dans l’action mondiale contre la pandémie, car de nouveaux objectifs de développement durable donnent un cadre à la lutte internationale contre les nombreuses injustices que connaissent nos communautés et notre monde. Une nouvelle déclaration politique des Nations Unies sur le VIH a établi des points d’engagement essentiels pour que les gouvernements développent leurs efforts visant à mettre fin au sida. Mais ces efforts en eux-mêmes ne suffisent pas.

Nous, le Conseil œcuménique des Églises, sommes contraints, avec nos partenaires œcuméniques et toutes les personnes de bonne volonté, de contribuer à «mettre fin à l’épidémie du sida d’ici à 2030». Pour nous, cela signifie accompagner les personnes et les communautés qui vivent avec le VIH ou qui y sont vulnérables, chaque jour, chaque mois et chaque année, jusqu’à ce que le sida soit vaincu.

Relecture et réflexion

  1. La pandémie du VIH est maintenant dans sa quatrième décennie. Depuis 1984, le COE participe activement à la lutte contre la pandémie, encourageant la réflexion entre les Églises membres, offrant un accompagnement pastoral et responsabilisant pour la défense des causes et l’action. En 1986, le Comité exécutif du COE avait déclaré prophétiquement: «Avec force, le sida nous met au défi d’être l’Église en acte et en vérité: être Église comme communauté de guérison. Le sida est déchirant et met les Églises au défi de briser leur cœur, de se repentir de leur passivité et de leur moralisme rigide.» Il a également approuvé et soutenu l’ensemble de la communauté médicale et les chercheurs dans leurs efforts de lutte contre la maladie.[1]
  2. En 1996, le Comité central du COE a rappelé aux Églises de reconnaître le lien entre le sida et la pauvreté et de promouvoir un développement juste et durable et prêter une attention particulière aux situations qui accroissent la vulnérabilité au sida. En particulier, les Églises devaient travailler avec les femmes qui cherchent à atteindre la pleine mesure de leur dignité et à exprimer toute l’étendue de leurs dons. Il avait été rappelé aux Églises d’éduquer et de mobiliser les jeunes et les hommes afin de prévenir la propagation du VIH. Il a également été demandé aux Églises de mieux cerner la sexualité humaine comme don, en ce qui concerne la responsabilité personnelle, les relations, la famille et la foi chrétienne. Le Comité central a demandé aux Églises d’agir contre la pandémie de la drogue et le rôle qu’elle joue dans la propagation du VIH et de mettre en place localement un système adéquat de soins, de traitement de la toxicomanie, de réadaptation et de prévention.[2]
  3. Réuni le 6 septembre 2006 à Genève, le Comité central du COE a passé en revue les activités du mouvement œcuménique en matière de VIH et incité de nouveau les Églises à devenir plus compatissantes et davantage compétentes dans la lutte contre le VIH et le sida. Le Comité Central du COE a également exhorté les communautés d’inspiration religieuse à préconiser que les traitements antirétroviraux ainsi que le traitement d’autres infections opportunistes soient mis à disposition et rendus accessibles à toutes et tous. Les dirigeants des Églises ont été encouragés à exercer leur rôle de promoteurs de politiques justes et à exiger des gouvernements qu’ils rendent compte de leurs promesses.[3] Cette année 2016, le cheminement œcuménique mené depuis 1984 avec le VIH a été mis en évidence dans le livre Passion and compassion, the ecumenical journey with HIV (Passion et compassion, le cheminement œcuménique avec le VIH).
  4. Le VIH a été, et continue d’être, source de grands enseignements pour tous les secteurs de la société.[4] Il a été largement reconnu que cette lutte ne connaît aucune comparaison. Les personnes vivant avec le VIH ont joué un rôle fondamental dans la lutte et ont démontré que le leadership et l’implication des personnes les plus touchées sont essentiels pour traiter les causes profondes et mettre en œuvre des solutions efficaces. La pandémie a mis en lumière les causes profondes et les injustices, aux facettes multiples, qui entraînent le VIH. Parmi celles-ci, on relève la stigmatisation, la discrimination, la violence sexuelle et sexiste, les inégalités entre les sexes, les abus de pouvoir et de confiance. Les disparités économiques encouragent et perpétuent un environnement marqué par les maux sociaux dans lequel la transmission du VIH s’accélère. Dans la lutte contre le VIH, des efforts considérables ont été faits pour que l’action soit axée sur les gens et leurs besoins, et grâce à une collaboration sans précédent dans tous les secteurs de la société, il y a eu des résultats extraordinaires sur les plans de la prévention, du traitement, des soins et de l’accompagnement. La pandémie a renouvelé la perception du rôle essentiel de la foi dans la santé et la guérison, de même que la reconnaissance de la santé en tant que droit humain.
  5. Aujourd’hui, presque 16 millions de personnes sont sous traitement. Ce grand succès est le résultat des efforts concertés de toutes les branches et de leur dévouement pour travailler à la réalisation du sixième objectif du Millénaire pour le développement des Nations Unies. Cependant, la pandémie du VIH est loin d’être éradiquée.
  6. Le VIH demeure l’un des domaines ayant aujourd’hui le plus besoin d’intervention. Actuellement, 21 millions de personnes n’ont pas accès au traitement du VIH et près de la moitié des 37 millions de personnes vivant avec le VIH ne savent même pas qu’elles sont séropositives. Les maladies liées au sida sont maintenant la première cause de décès chez les adolescents en Afrique. Le nombre total de décès dus au sida, qui est de plus de 30 millions, s’accroît chaque année de plus d’un million. En outre, plus de deux millions de personnes supplémentaires sont infectées chaque année. Notamment, plus de 5 000 jeunes filles et femmes sont contaminées chaque semaine par le VIH en Afrique australe. Nous sommes confrontés à la catastrophe de six millions d’enfants devenus orphelins en raison du sida, et ce chiffre augmente. En dépit de tous les progrès de la médecine dans la prévention de la transmission mère-enfant, 220 000 enfants ont été contaminés en 2014. Les enfants vivant avec le VIH ont bien moins accès au traitement que les adultes. D’autres preuves montrent que dans le monde, en 2013, 1,6 million de personnes vivant avec le VIH étaient en situation d’urgence humanitaire, notamment due à la violence et aux conflits, dont plus de 80% en Afrique subsaharienne. Ces statistiques, véhiculant des histoires ignorées de perte, de douleur et de terribles difficultés, sont intolérables et exigent une riposte fidèle et durable de la part de la communauté des croyants.
  7. Nous reconnaissons que depuis le début de la pandémie, certaines ripostes d’inspiration religieuse – de pair avec des actions menées au sein de la société dans son ensemble – ont été contre-productives dans la lutte en ceci qu’elles ont exacerbé la stigmatisation et la désinformation et ont fait l’impasse sur les questions de vulnérabilité. Malgré cela, nous reconnaissons que les Églises et leurs services de santé ont apporté des soins, des traitements et un soutien bienveillants, souvent à l’encontre des pauvres et des plus vulnérables. Au fil des années, les Églises membres du COE, leurs instituts théologiques et leurs partenaires œcuméniques ont également apporté des compétences directionnelles vitales dans les réflexions théologiques et bibliques contextuelles, la production et la distribution de littérature théologique, la liturgie et les manuels. À travers cette réaction aux facettes multiples, les Églises ont proclamé que le VIH n’est pas seulement une question médicale. Bien plus, c’est une réalité sociale qui fait appel à une formation biblique et théologique profonde et à des théologies porteuses de vie qui incarnent la justice, la guérison, la paix et la plénitude de vie.
  8. Le mouvement œcuménique a manifesté et continue d’exprimer son engagement contre le VIH de manières variées, qui vont de l’accompagnement et la réflexion à l’action et la défense des causes. Deux initiatives œcuméniques du COE d’importance critique sont l’Alliance œcuménique «agir ensemble» (EAA, depuis 2000) et les Initiatives et plaidoyer œcuméniques pour la lutte contre le VIH et le sida (EHAIA, depuis 2002).
  9. Le COE-EHAIA a axé son action sur l’accompagnement et le renforcement des capacités. Il vise à promouvoir les compétences et la sensibilisation au VIH dans les Églises et collabore avec les instituts de théologie afin d’intégrer le VIH dans les programmes de théologie. Il produit des écrits théologiques qui mettent en avant les théologies affirmant la vie, qui abordent les causes profondes de la vulnérabilité au VIH, notamment les inégalités entre les sexes et la violence sexuelle et sexiste, et qui encouragent le dialogue sur le sexe et la sexualité entre les générations. L’utilisation d’études bibliques contextuelles a été un élément clé dans la méthodologie.
  10. La COE-EAA est un réseau international d’Églises et d’organisations liées aux Églises engagées ensemble dans une campagne de sensibilisation à des préoccupations communes. Dès sa création, le réseau a déterminé que le VIH était l’une des deux thématiques sur lesquelles porterait son action de plaidoyer. La campagne sur le VIH, intitulée «Vivre la promesse», réagit à la stigmatisation et à la discrimination, préconise l’accès universel au traitement, s’attaque aux obstacles politiques et juridiques qui limitent l’accès et nient les droits des personnes vivant avec le VIH, promeut des ressources suffisantes et durables et encourage la responsabilisation des gouvernements et des Églises. L’Alliance équipe les Églises et veille à ce qu’elles aient la nécessaire capacité d’entreprendre ce plaidoyer.
  11. Le mouvement œcuménique a également veillé à inclure davantage les personnes vivant avec le VIH dans toutes les discussions, toutes les politiques et tous les programmes en rapport avec le VIH. Le COE a élaboré en 2005 une politique concernant les lieux de travail, afin d’aider les Églises membres et les organisations œcuméniques à mettre à jour leurs politiques pour veiller à ce que les personnes vivant avec le VIH soient protégées au sein des institutions associées aux Églises et aux organisations liées aux Églises.[5] Reconnaissant la nécessité et l’importance pour les personnes vivant avec le VIH de développer leurs propres organisations, réunions et réseaux, tant dans le contexte laïque que religieux, le mouvement œcuménique a accompagné la création et le développement du Réseau africain des responsables religieux vivant avec le VIH/sida (ANERELA+), et plus tard, le Réseau international des responsables religieux vivant avec le VIH/sida (INERELA+). Le COE a également mis au point des documents d’information et des lignes directrices essentiels à l’intention des Églises membres et organisations œcuméniques de manière à leur donner les moyens de développer des partenariats avec des réseaux de personnes vivant avec le VIH.[6]

Appel à l’action

  1. Il est crucial que, dans les années à venir, les Églises membres du COE et leurs partenaires œcuméniques intensifient leurs efforts pour éradiquer les causes de la transmission du VIH et du sida et qu’elles poursuivent leurs actions de plaidoyer, d’accompagnement et de soutien spirituel en faveur des personnes séropositives. Les Églises ont pris part à la formulation des objectifs de développement durable adoptés en septembre 2015 et, depuis, une carte précise a été tracée par les Nations Unies afin d’éradiquer le sida d’ici 2030. Afin d’y parvenir, des objectifs intermédiaires ont été fixés pour 2020. Ces objectifs sont les suivants: au moins 90% des personnes vivant avec le VIH connaissent leur séropositivité; 90% des personnes qui connaissent leur séropositivité ont accès au traitement; et 90% des personnes qui suivent le traitement ont une charge virale indétectable, ce qui signifie qu’il n’y a pratiquement aucun risque de transmission du VIH. Par conséquent, il est essentiel d’intensifier les efforts de service dans les quatre prochaines années. Sans le soutien et la mobilisation à grande échelle de la communauté des croyants, cela ne pourra se faire.
  2. La communauté internationale, reconnaissant le rôle essentiel de la riposte religieuse, a appelé les communautés de croyants à se mobiliser avec un sens renouvelé de l’urgence. En tant que personnes de foi, nous sommes aussi appelés par Dieu à porter la «vie en abondance» à l’ensemble du peuple de Dieu. Nous sommes contraints par notre engagement envers Dieu et envers les siens à tenir compte de ces appels.
  3. Sur notre Pèlerinage de justice et de paix, nous appelons les Églises membres du COE, les partenaires œcuméniques, et toutes les personnes de bonne volonté à:
  4. Montrer l’exemple:
    1. En se soumettant au dépistage
    2. En voyant Dieu dans l’autre, et en particulier dans ceux qui sont en marge de la société
    3. En menant une vie respectueuse de la dignité des faibles et des vulnérables
    4. En créant, dans nos Églises et nos communautés, des espaces sûrs où la grâce se manifeste et où les gens puissent se sentir accueillis, protégés, reconnus et acceptés
    5. En travaillant en étroite collaboration avec des prestataires de soins médicaux chrétiens
    6. Aider les personnes nécessiteuses:
      1. En leur apprenant, à tous les âges, à se protéger contre l’infection et à développer un environnement protecteur
      2. En offrant des soins complets qui comprennent un accompagnement pastoral, médical, spirituel et nutritionnel
      3. En rendant nos établissements de soins médicaux et d’enseignement accueillants et sécurisants pour ceux qui vivent avec le VIH ou sont vulnérables
      4. Utiliser notre voix prophétique:
        1. En parlant avec et pour ceux qui souffrent d’injustice et d’exclusion
        2. En se prononçant contre la stigmatisation et la discrimination à tous les niveaux de la société, notamment nos propres Églises
        3. En mettant en avant une théologie et une pratique ecclésiale qui affirment une bonté et une compréhension holistique de la sexualité et des relations humaines
        4. En condamnant les lois qui créent la vulnérabilité au VIH
        5. En tenant les gouvernements responsables des objectifs de développement durable et des engagements pris dans la déclaration politique 2016 des Nations Unies sur le VIH
        6. En plaidant pour un accès élargi aux services complets de prévention du VIH, de traitement, de soins et de soutien
        7. En poussant les entreprises et industries à adopter un fonctionnement moral en donnant l’accès à des diagnostics de qualité et économiquement abordables, et à des médicaments pour tous.

Nous nous engageons à agir en ce sens, en tant qu’individus représentant le Comité central du COE et les partenaires œcuméniques présents, en nous fondant, dans la prière, sur la sagesse et la force du Dieu de vie, et nous vous demandons de nous rejoindre dans cet engagement. «Nous sommes une communauté fraternelle en chemin, une communauté de pèlerins. Nous cheminons ensemble vers la vie dans toute sa plénitude. Nous prions Dieu qu’il nous inspire et qu’il nous guide afin que notre pèlerinage soit pour nous une source d’ouverture mutuelle au travers d’une interaction dynamique et créatrice pour la justice. Dieu de la vie, amène-nous à être des instruments vivants de ta justice et de ta paix!»[7]

 

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Igrejas Reassumem o Compromisso de Acelerar a Resposta ao HIV. 28/6/2016

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E não nos cansemos de fazer o bem, pois no tempo próprio colheremos, se não desanimarmos. (Gálatas 6:9)

Queridos irmãos e irmãs em Cristo,

Nós, membros do comitê central do Conselho Mundial de Igrejas (CMI) e parceiros ecumênicos presentes, dirigimo-nos a vocês, companheiros peregrinos na nossa jornada por justiça e paz. Entre as deliberações, tomadas com auxílio de orações, durante nosso recente encontro em Trondheim, Noruega, reafirmamos com alegria que o amor de Deus é para todos, independentemente do seu status de HIV. Fomos lembrados da profundidade e da amplitude da resposta das igrejas ao HIV desde o início da pandemia e afirmamos que caminhamos ao lado das pessoas que convivem com o HIV nas nossas comunidades de fé e mais além. Somos exortados pelo amor de Cristo a ir mais além do que é confortável ou conveniente, particularmente ao estender a mão àqueles que vivem às margens da sociedade e das nossas teologias.

Este ano é particularmente significativo para a resposta global à pandemia, com os novos Objetivos de Desenvolvimento Sustentável enquadrando respostas internacionais às vastas injustiças nas nossas comunidades e no mundo. Uma nova declaração política das Nações Unidas sobre o HIV estabeleceu compromissos vitais para os governos a fim de realizar um esforço intensificado para erradicar a AIDS. No entanto, esforços isolados não são suficientes.

Como Conselho Mundial de Igrejas, ao lado de nossos parceiros ecumênicos e de todas as pessoas de boa vontade, nos vemos obrigados a contribuir para “Erradicar a AIDS até 2030”. Para nós, isso significa acompanhar pessoas e comunidades que convivem com ou que sejam vulneráveis ao HIV todos os dias, todos os meses, todos os anos - até que a AIDS tenha sido superada.

Lembrar e refletir

A pandemia do HIV está agora em sua quarta década. Desde 1984, o CMI está ativamente envolvido na resposta à pandemia, promovendo a reflexão entre suas igrejas-membro, oferecendo acompanhamento pastoral e facilitando autonomia para incidência e ação. Em 1986, o Comitê Executivo do CMI declarou profeticamente - “A AIDS nos desafia profundamente a ser a Igreja em ação e verdade: ser a Igreja como uma comunidade de cura. A AIDS parte corações e desafia as igrejas a partirem seus próprios corações para se arrependerem da inatividade e de moralismos rígidos”. Também afirmou e apoiou toda a comunidade médica e de pesquisa em seus esforços para combater a doença.[1]

Em 1996, o Comitê Central do CMI lembrou as igrejas de reconhecer o elo entre a AIDS e a pobreza, e de promover o desenvolvimento justo e sustentável e dar atenção especial a situações que aumentem a vulnerabilidade à AIDS. De maneira especial, as igrejas foram convidadas a trabalhar junto às mulheres em sua busca por plenitude de sua dignidade e expressão de seus dons em sua totalidade. As igrejas também foram lembradas a instruir e envolver jovens e homens, a fim de evitar a disseminação do HIV. As igrejas também foram chamadas a compreender mais a fundo o dom da sexualidade humana nos contextos de responsabilidade pessoal, relacionamentos, família e fé cristã. O Comitê Central pediu às igrejas que abordassem a pandemia do consumo de drogas e o seu papel na disseminação do HIV e desenvolvessem respostas localmente relevantes em termos de assistência, tratamento do vício, reabilitação e prevenção.[2]

A reunião do Comitê Central do CMI, em 6 de setembro de 2006, em Genebra, reviu o trabalho do movimento ecumênico em relação ao HIV e reassumiu o compromisso das igrejas de se tornarem mais compassivas e competentes na resposta ao HIV e à AIDS. O Comitê Central do CMI também exortou comunidades baseadas na fé a defender a ideia de que tratamentos antirretrovirais, bem como o tratamento para outras infecções oportunistas, sejam disponibilizados e estejam disponíveis para todos.  Os líderes das igrejas foram incentivados a exercer seu papel de defensores de políticas justas e a cobrar os governos por suas promessas.[3] Este ano, 2016, a jornada ecumênica com o HIV desde 1984 foi capturada no livro Passion and Compassion, The Ecumenical Journey with HIV.

O HIV deu e continua a dar lições a todos os setores da sociedade.[4] Foi amplamente reconhecido que a resposta foi como nenhuma outra. As pessoas que convivem com o HIV tiveram um papel fundamental na resposta e demonstraram que a liderança e o envolvimento daqueles mais afetados é essencial para lidar com suas causas originais e implementar soluções eficazes. A pandemia evidenciou as múltiplas facetas destas causas originais e das injustiças que promovem o HIV. Nelas, se incluem o estigma, a discriminação, a violência sexual e baseada em gênero, as desigualdades de gênero, o abuso de poder e a quebra de confiança. Disparidades econômicas promovem e perpetuam um ambiente de males sociais nos quais prospera a transmissão do HIV. Na resposta ao HIV, foram feitos esforços consideráveis para que o enfoque principal estivesse nas pessoas e em suas necessidades e, através de uma colaboração sem precedentes em todos os setores da sociedade, foram alcançados resultados extraordinários em prevenção, tratamento, assistência e suporte. A pandemia rejuvenesceu a apreciação de que a fé tem um papel essencial na saúde e na cura, além do reconhecimento da saúde como um direito humano.

Hoje, quase 16 milhões de pessoas estão em tratamento. Este grande sucesso é o resultado de esforços concentrados de todos os setores e sua dedicação ao trabalho visando o 6o Objetivo de Desenvolvimento do Milênio das Nações Unidas. No entanto, a pandemia do HIV está longe de acabar.

O HIV permanece uma das áreas mais críticas que seguem necessitando constante intervenção nos dias de hoje. Atualmente, 21 milhões de pessoas não têm acesso ao tratamento do HIV e quase metade das 37 milhões de pessoas que convivem com o HIV nem sabem que são HIV-positivas. Atualmente, doenças relacionadas à AIDS são a principal causa da morte de adolescentes na África. As mortes acumuladas de mais de 30 milhões relacionadas à AIDS crescem em mais de 1 milhão todos os anos. Além disso, há mais de 2 milhões de novas infecções a cada ano. Elas atingem mais de 5.000 garotas no sudeste da África a cada semana. Estamos enfrentando a catástrofe de 6 milhões de órfãos relacionados à AIDS e este número está crescendo. Apesar de todos os avanços médicos na prevenção da transmissão de mãe para filho, 220.000 crianças foram infectadas em 2014. Crianças que convivem com o HIV têm muito menos acesso ao tratamento que adultos. Outras evidências mostram que mundialmente, em 2013, 1,6 milhão de pessoas que convivem com o HIV foram afetadas por emergências humanitárias, particularmente violência e conflito, com mais de 80% desses afetados na África subsaariana. Essas estatísticas, que implicam histórias não contadas de perda, dor e incrível adversidade, são intoleráveis e exigem uma resposta fiel e sustentada da comunidade da fé.

Desde o início da pandemia, reconhecemos que algumas das respostas baseadas na fé - em comum com reações na sociedade em geral - foram contraproducentes para a resposta, exacerbando estigma, estimulando a desinformação e permanecendo no silêncio em questões de vulnerabilidade. Mesmo assim, reconhecemos também que as igrejas e seus serviços relacionados à saúde forneceram assistência, tratamento e suporte compassivos, frequentemente entre os pobres e os mais vulneráveis. Com o passar dos anos, as igrejas-membro do CMI, suas instituições teológicas e parceiros ecumênicos também proporcionavam uma liderança vital em reflexões contextuais bíblicas e teológicas e na produção e distribuição de literatura, liturgias e manuais teológicos. Com sua resposta de múltiplas facetas, as igrejas proclamaram que o HIV não é apenas uma questão médica. Mais precisamente, é uma realidade social que exige embasamento bíblico e teológico profundo e teologias essenciais para a vida que incorporem justiça, cura, paz e a plenitude da vida.

O movimento ecumênico se comprometeu e continua a nutrir um envolvimento total com o HIV, que varia desde acompanhamento até reflexão, ação e amparo. Duas iniciativas ecumênicas de importância crítica do CMI são a Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA desde 2000) e a Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (EHAIA desde 2002).

A WCC-EHAIA focou em acompanhamento e formação de capacidade. Ela busca promover a competência e o amparo sobre HIV entre igrejas e trabalha com instituições teológicas para integrar o HIV no currículo teológico. Também produz literatura teológica que promove teologias de afirmação da vida, lida com as causas originais da vulnerabilidade ao HIV, incluindo desigualdades de gênero, violência sexual e baseada em gênero, e promove o diálogo entre gerações sobre sexo e sexualidade. O uso de estudos contextuais da Bíblia tem sido uma metodologia fundamental.

A WCC-EAA é uma rede internacional de igrejas e organizações relacionadas à igreja comprometidas com a realização de campanhas sobre preocupações em comum.  O HIV foi identificado em sua fundação como uma das duas questões urgentes que necessitavam de amparo global. A campanha sobre o HIV, chamada de “Viva a Promessa”, aborda o estigma e a discriminação, apoia o acesso universal ao tratamento, enfrenta barreiras políticas e legais que limitam o acesso e negam direitos a pessoas que convivem com o HIV, promove a obtenção de recursos suficiente e sustentável e encoraja a responsabilização de governos e igrejas. A aliança equipa igrejas e se assegura de que elas tenham a capacidade tão necessária para assumir esse apoio.

O movimento ecumênico também assegurou a participação maior e significativa de pessoas que convivem com o HIV em todas as discussões relacionadas ao HIV, no desenvolvimento de políticas e na implementação de programas. Em 2005, o CMI desenvolveu uma política de locais de trabalho para auxiliar suas igrejas-membro e organizações ecumênicas a atualizar suas políticas para garantir que pessoas que convivem com o HIV estejam protegidas em instituições associadas a igrejas e organizações relacionadas.[5] Reconhecendo a necessidade e a importância de pessoas que convivem com o HIV de desenvolver suas próprias organizações, convenções e redes – tanto no contexto secular como no contexto religioso, o movimento ecumênico acompanhou a formação e o desenvolvimento da African Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (ANERELA+) e mais tarde da International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV (INERELA+).  O CMI também desenvolveu informações importantes e diretrizes para suas igrejas-membro e organizações ecumênicas para equipá-las a fim de desenvolver parcerias com redes de pessoas que convivem com o HIV.[6]

Um chamado à ação

É vital que nos próximos anos as igrejas-membro do CMI e seus parceiros ecumênicos aumentem seus esforços para eliminar as causas raízes da transmissão do HIV e da AIDS e continuem seu apoio, acompanhamento e suporte espiritual a pessoas que convivem com o HIV. Uma vez que as igrejas passaram a fazer parte do processo de articulação dos Objetivos de Desenvolvimento Sustentável adotados em setembro de 2015, foi traçado um mapa bem definido pelas Nações Unidas para erradicar a AIDS até 2030. Para isso, foram estabelecidos objetivos intermediários para 2020. Esses objetivos incluem pelo menos 90% de pessoas que convivem com o HIV e que sabem de seu status de HIV; 90% dessas pessoas que sabem de seu status têm acesso ao tratamento; e 90% das pessoas em tratamento têm uma carga viral indetectável - o que significa que virtualmente não existe risco de transmissão do HIV. Consequentemente, o aumento da escala de serviço nos próximos quatro anos é crítico. Sem o suporte e a mobilização significativos da comunidade da fé, isso não será alcançado.

A comunidade internacional, reconhecendo o papel fundamental da resposta da fé, apelou para as comunidades da fé para responder com um senso de urgência renovado. Como um povo de fé, também somos chamados por Deus para facilitar a “vida em abundância” para todos os povos de Deus. Estamos obrigados pelo nosso compromisso com Deus e com o povo de Deus a atentar para esses chamados.

Na nossa peregrinação de Justiça e Paz, exortamos as igrejas-membro do CMI, os parceiros ecumênicos e as pessoas de boa vontade a:

Liderar pelo exemplo:

  • Ao sermos testados
  • Vendo Deus no outro e em particular nas pessoas às margens da sociedade
  • Vivendo vidas que respeitem a dignidade dos fracos e vulneráveis
  • Na criação de espaços seguros de graça em nossas igrejas e comunidades onde as pessoas se sentirão bem-vindas, protegidas, afirmadas e aceitas
  • Trabalhando de perto com profissionais da saúde cristãos

Prover subsistência aos que vivem em necessidade:

  • Facilitando o conhecimento e o ambiente para pessoas de todas as idades para que se protejam contra infecção
  • Oferecendo cuidados abrangentes (pastoral, médico, espiritual e nutricional)
  • Tornando nossas instalações educacionais e de atendimento à saúde lugares seguros e receptivos para aqueles que convivem com o HIV e que sejam vulneráveis a ele

Usar nossa voz profética:

  • Falando com e por aqueles que sofrem injustiça e exclusão
  • Falando abertamente contra o estigma e a discriminação em todos os níveis da sociedade incluindo nossas próprias igrejas
  • Promovendo a teologia e a prática religiosa que afirme uma compreensão positiva e holística da sexualidade e das relações humanas
  • Falando contra leis que criem vulnerabilidade ao HIV
  • Cobrando de governos a implementação dos Objetivos de Desenvolvimento Sustentável e os compromissos assumidos na declaração política das Nações Unidas de 2016 sobre o HIV
  • Defendendo o acesso amplo à prevenção, tratamento, assistência e suporte abrangente do HIV
  • Desafiando corporações e indústria a operar moralmente, permitindo o acesso a diagnósticos e medicamentos acessíveis e de qualidade para todos.

Estamos comprometidos com essas ações como membros do Comitê Central do CMI e parceiros ecumênicos presentes, com devota confiança na sabedoria e no poder do Deus da Vida, e pedimos a você que se junte a nós neste compromisso. “Somos uma comunhão viva, uma comunidade de peregrinos. Caminhamos juntos ruma a uma vida plena. Oramos pedindo a orientação e a inspiração de Deus para que a nossa peregrinação nos abra uns aos outros através de uma interação dinâmica e criativa pela justiça. Deus da vida, conduza-nos a ser instrumentos vivos da sua justiça e paz! ”[7]

Trondheim, 28 de junho de 2016 

 

Comitê Central do Conselho Mundial de Igrejas

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Las Iglesias Renuevan su Compromiso de Acelerar la Respuesta al VIH. 28/6/2016

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No nos cansemos, pues, de hacer el bien; porque a su tiempo cosecharemos, si no desfallecemos. (Gálatas 6, 9)

Estimados hermanos y hermanas en Cristo,

Nosotros, los miembros del Comité Central del Consejo Mundial de Iglesias (CMI) y los asociados ecuménicos aquí presentes, nos dirigimos a usted como sus compañeros de peregrinación en nuestro viaje por la justicia y la paz. En las deliberaciones orantes mantenidas durante nuestra reunión en Trondheim (Noruega) reafirmamos con alegría que el amor de Dios es para todas las personas, independientemente de su estado serológico. Se nos recordó la profundidad y la amplitud de la respuesta de las iglesias al VIH desde el comienzo de la pandemia y podemos afirmar que caminamos junto a quienes viven con el VIH en nuestras comunidades de fe y fuera de ellas. El amor de Cristo nos pide que vayamos un paso más allá de lo que es cómodo o conveniente, sobre todo para llegar a quienes viven en los márgenes de la sociedad y de nuestras teologías.

Este es un año importante en la respuesta mundial a la pandemia gracias a la formulación de respuestas mediante los nuevos Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible para hacer frente a las enormes injusticias que padecen nuestras comunidades y el resto del mundo. Una nueva declaración política de las Naciones Unidas sobre el VIH ha anunciado la determinación de los gobiernos de intensificar sus esfuerzos para acabar con el sida; pero por sí solos esos esfuerzos no bastan.

Como Consejo Mundial de Iglesias, junto con nuestros asociados ecuménicos y todas las personas de buena voluntad, estamos en la obligación de contribuir a poner fin al sida para el año 2030. Para nosotros, eso implica acompañar a las personas y a las comunidades que son vulnerables al VIH o viven con él cada día, cada mes y cada año hasta que se haya vencido la batalla contra el sida.

Recordar y reflexionar

  1. La pandemia del VIH ha cumplido ya su cuarta década. Desde 1984 el CMI ha participado activamente en la respuesta a la pandemia, promoviendo la reflexión entre las iglesias miembros, proporcionando acompañamiento pastoral y fomentando la sensibilización y la acción. En 1986 el Comité Ejecutivo del CMI hizo la siguiente declaración profética: “La crisis del sida nos desafía profundamente a que seamos Iglesia en obras y en verdad: a que seamos Iglesia como comunidad de sanación. El sida es una enfermedad que desgarra el corazón y reta a las iglesias a desgarrar sus propios corazones y a arrepentirse de su inacción y de sus rígidos moralismos”. El Comité Ejecutivo destacó y apoyó asimismo los esfuerzos de toda la comunidad de médicos e investigadores para luchar contra la enfermedad.[1]
  2. En 1996 el Comité Central del CMI pidió a las iglesias que reconocieran los vínculos que existen entre el sida y la pobreza, que promovieran medidas en favor de un desarrollo justo y sostenible, y que prestaran especial atención a las situaciones que aumentaban la vulnerabilidad al sida. En particular, el Comité pidió a las iglesias que apoyaran a las mujeres que luchaban por obtener el respeto de su dignidad y por hacer valer sus capacidades en todas sus dimensiones; se les recordó que debían educar e implicar a los jóvenes y a los hombres para prevenir la propagación del VIH. Asimismo, se instó a las iglesias a esforzarse en comprender mejor el don de la sexualidad humana en el contexto de la responsabilidad personal, de las relaciones, de la familia y de la fe cristiana. El Comité Central pidió a las iglesias que hicieran frente a la pandemia del consumo de drogas, al papel que desempeña en la difusión del VIH/SIDA, y que tomaran medidas en el ámbito local por lo que respecta a la asistencia, la desintoxicación, la rehabilitación y la prevención.[2]
  3. 3. La reunión del Comité Central del CMI, el 6 de septiembre de 2006, en Ginebra, examinó la labor del movimiento ecuménico en relación con el VIH y renovó el compromiso de las iglesias de ser más compasivas y competentes en su respuesta al VIH y al sida. El Comité Central del CMI también exhortó a las comunidades religiosas a luchar por que los tratamientos antirretrovirales, así como el tratamiento de otras infecciones oportunistas, fueran accesibles y asequibles a todos. Se estimuló a los dirigentes de las iglesias a desempeñar su función de defensores de políticas justas y a hacer que los gobiernos se hicieran responsables de sus promesas.[3] En ese año 2016, se relató el camino ecuménico con el VIH desde 1984 en el libro La pasión y la compasión, el camino ecuménico con el VIH. (en inglés)
  4. El VIH ha sido y sigue siendo un gran maestro para todos los sectores de la sociedad.[4] Ha sido ampliamente reconocido que la respuesta dada no tiene precedentes. Las personas infectadas por el VIH han desempeñado un papel fundamental en esa respuesta y han demostrado que el liderazgo y la participación de los principales afectados es fundamental para hacer frente a sus causas profundas y para aplicar soluciones eficaces. La pandemia ha arrojado luz sobre las múltiples causas profundas y las injusticias que hay detrás del VIH, entre ellas, la estigmatización, la discriminación, la violencia sexual y de género, las desigualdades de género, el abuso de poder y la traición de la confianza. Las disparidades económicas promueven y perpetúan entornos sociales perniciosos donde prospera la transmisión del virus. En la respuesta al VIH se han hecho importantes esfuerzos para centrarse en las personas y en sus necesidades, y se han obtenido resultados extraordinarios en materia de prevención, tratamiento, atención y apoyo gracias a una colaboración sin precedentes entre todos los sectores de la sociedad. La pandemia ha renovado el reconocimiento de que la fe desempeña un papel decisivo en la salud y en la curación, y también el reconocimiento de que la salud es un derecho humano.
  5. En la actualidad, casi 16 millones de personas reciben tratamiento. Este gran éxito es fruto de la concertación de los esfuerzos de todos los sectores y de su dedicación para alcanzar el sexto Objetivo de Desarrollo del Milenio de las Naciones Unidas. No obstante, aún queda mucho para superar la pandemia del VIH.
  6. Hoy por hoy, el VIH sigue siendo uno de los ámbitos que más urgentemente requieren intervención. Actualmente hay 21 millones de personas que no tienen acceso al tratamiento del VIH, y casi la mitad de los 37 millones de personas con VIH ni siquiera saben que son VIH-positivas. Las enfermedades relacionadas con el sida son la principal causa de muerte entre los adolescentes en África. La cifra total de 30 millones de muertes relacionadas con el sida aumenta cada año en más de un millón. Además, se producen más de 2 millones de nuevas infecciones cada año, de las cuales 5.000 son chicas jóvenes y mujeres que contraen la infección por el VIH cada semana en África meridional. Nos enfrentamos a la catastrófica cifra de 6 millones de huérfanos por fallecimientos relacionados con el sida, y esa cifra sigue creciendo. A pesar de todos los avances médicos en la prevención de la transmisión maternoinfantil, 220 000 niños se infectaron del VIH en 2014. Los niños con VIH tienen mucho menos acceso al tratamiento que los adultos. Otros datos muestran que, en el contexto mundial, 1,6 millones de personas con VIH se vieron afectadas por emergencias humanitarias durante el año 2013, en particular por situaciones de violencia y conflicto, encontrándose más del 80% de los afectados en el África subsahariana. Estas estadísticas, que encierran historias nunca contadas de pérdida, dolor y penurias increíbles, son intolerables y exigen una respuesta de fe sostenible por parte de la comunidad religiosa.
  7. Desde el comienzo de la pandemia, reconocemos que algunas de las respuestas de la comunidad religiosa –como las reacciones de la sociedad en general– han sido contraproducentes para la respuesta por exacerbar la estigmatización, fomentar la desinformación y no pronunciarse ante situaciones de vulnerabilidad. Reconocemos, no obstante, que las iglesias y sus servicios relacionados con la salud han prestado atención, tratamiento y apoyo de forma compasiva y, a menudo, a los pobres y a los más vulnerables. En el transcurso de los años, las iglesias miembros del CMI, sus instituciones teológicas y asociados ecuménicos han proporcionado asimismo un liderazgo vital en reflexiones teológicas y bíblicas contextuales, así como en la producción y distribución de literatura teológica, liturgias y manuales. A través de su respuesta multifacética, las iglesias han proclamado que el VIH no es solo un problema médico, sino una realidad social que requiere profundos fundamentos bíblicos y teológicos, así como teologías dadoras de vida que encarnen la justicia, la curación, la paz y la plenitud de la vida.
  8. El movimiento ecuménico se ha dedicado a la causa del VIH y sigue haciéndolo a través de múltiples formas de compromiso con el VIH, que van desde el acompañamiento a la reflexión, la adopción de medidas y la sensibilización. Dos iniciativas ecuménicas del CMI de vital importancia son la Alianza Ecuménica de Acción Mundial (AEAM) y las Iniciativas Ecuménicas y Acción Mundial sobre el VIH/SIDA (EHAIA, por sus siglas en inglés) (2002).
  9. El CMI-EHAIA se ha centrado en el acompañamiento y en la creación de capacidad. Su objetivo es promover entre las iglesias las competencias y las actividades de concientización en materia de VIH y colaborar con instituciones teológicas para integrar el VIH en los planes de estudios teológicos. El CMI-EHAIA publica literatura teológica que promueve las teologías de afirmación de la vida y aborda las causas profundas de la vulnerabilidad al VIH –en particular las desigualdades de género y la violencia sexual y de género– y fomenta el diálogo intergeneracional sobre el sexo y la sexualidad. La utilización de estudios bíblicos contextuales ha constituido un método fundamental.
  10. El CMI-AEAM es una red internacional de iglesias y organizaciones eclesiales dedicadas a defender juntas causas comunes. En el momento de su fundación, se determinó que el VIH era uno de los dos asuntos más urgentes que requerían una labor de sensibilización a escala mundial. Su campaña sobre el VIH, llamada “Live the Promise” (Vive la promesa), aborda la estigmatización y la discriminación, defiende el acceso universal al tratamiento, lucha contra las barreras políticas y legales que limitan el acceso al tratamiento y privan a las personas con VIH de sus derechos, promueve una asignación de recursos suficiente y sostenible, y alienta a gobiernos e iglesias a rendir cuentas. La alianza prepara a las iglesias y vela por que dispongan de la capacidad que tanto se necesita para llevar a cabo semejante labor.
  11. El movimiento ecuménico también se ha preocupado de aumentar la participación decisiva de las personas con VIH en todos los debates relacionados con el virus, en la formulación de políticas y en la ejecución de programas. El CMI elaboró en 2005 una política para los lugares de trabajo con el fin de ayudar a las iglesias miembros y a las organizaciones ecuménicas a actualizar sus políticas de manera que las personas con VIH estén protegidas en las instituciones y organizaciones vinculadas a las iglesias.[5] Reconociendo la necesidad y la importancia de que las personas que viven con VIH creen sus propias organizaciones, grupos y redes, tanto en los contextos seculares como en los religiosos, el movimiento ecuménico apoyó la formación y desarrollo de la Red africana de líderes religiosos que viven con o están personalmente afectados por el VIH y el sida (ANERELA +), y más tarde, de la Red internacional de líderes religiosos que viven con o están personalmente afectados por el VIH y el sida (INERELA+). El CMI también ha elaborado material de información general y directrices para las iglesias miembros y organizaciones ecuménicas que ha sido de vital importancia para prepararlas para establecer vínculos con redes de personas con el VIH.[6]

Llamamiento a la acción

Es fundamental que las iglesias miembros del CMI y sus asociados ecuménicos redoblen sus esfuerzos para atajar las causas principales de la transmisión del VIH/SIDA y continúen con su labor de sensibilización, acompañamiento y apoyo espiritual a las personas que viven con el VIH. Desde que las iglesias participaran en el proceso de formulación de los objetivos de desarrollo sostenible, adoptados en septiembre de 2015, las Naciones Unidas han trazado un mapa claro para acabar con el sida para el año 2030. Para lograrlo se han establecido objetivos intermedios para el año 2020. Estos objetivos incluyen que al menos el 90% de las personas infectadas por el VIH conozcan su estado serológico; que el 90% de quienes conocen su estado reciban tratamiento; y que el 90% de quienes reciban tratamiento tengan una carga vírica indetectable; es decir, que prácticamente no exista riesgo alguno de transmisión del virus. Es por tanto de vital importancia que aumenten los servicios en los próximos cuatro años, pues esos objetivos no podrán alcanzarse sin un apoyo y una movilización significativos de la comunidad religiosa.

La comunidad internacional, consciente del papel fundamental que desempeña la respuesta de las religiones, ha instado a las comunidades religiosas a responder con un sentido de urgencia renovado. Como personas religiosas, también nosotros estamos llamados por Dios para procurar “vida en abundancia” al pueblo de Dios. Estamos obligados por nuestro compromiso con Dios y con su pueblo a prestar atención a estos llamamientos.

En nuestra peregrinación de justicia y paz, hacemos un llamamiento a las iglesias miembros del CMI, a las organizaciones ecuménicas y a las personas de buena voluntad a:

Predicar con el ejemplo:

  1. haciéndose análisis de detección del virus;
  2. viendo a Dios en el prójimo y, sobre todo, en las personas que viven en los márgenes de la sociedad;
  3. viviendo vidas que respeten la dignidad de los débiles y los vulnerables;
  4. creando espacios de gracia seguros en nuestras iglesias y comunidades donde las personas se sientan acogidas, protegidas, apoyadas y aceptadas;
  5. trabajando en estrecha colaboración con los profesionales de la salud cristianos.

Servir a los necesitados:

  1. proporcionándoles conocimientos y creando un entorno que permita a las personas de todas las edades protegerse de la infección;
  2. ofreciendo una atención integral que incluya la asistencia pastoral, médica, nutricional y espiritual;
  3. creando instalaciones sanitarias y educativas acogedoras y espacios seguros para quienes viven con el VIH o son vulnerables al virus.

Usar nuestra voz profética:

  1. hablando en nombre de quienes padecen la injusticia y la exclusión;
  2. enfrentándonos a la estigmatización y la discriminación en todos los niveles de la sociedad, en particular en nuestras propias iglesias;
  3. fomentando una teología y una práctica eclesiástica que afirme una buena comprensión holística de la sexualidad y de las relaciones humanas;
  4. denunciando las leyes que generan vulnerabilidad al VIH;
  5. exigiendo a los gobiernos que asuman la responsabilidad de perseguir los objetivos de desarrollo sostenible y de cumplir con los compromisos adquiridos mediante la Declaración Política sobre el VIH/SIDA de las Naciones Unidas de 2006;
  6. luchando por un mayor acceso a unos servicios integrales de prevención, tratamiento, asistencia y apoyo en materia de VIH;
  7. exigiendo a las empresas e industrias que desarrollen sus actividades moralmente y den acceso a técnicas diagnósticas y tratamientos de calidad asequibles para todos.

Nos comprometemos a estas acciones como individuos e interlocutores ecuménicos presentes en el Comité Central del CMI, oramos confiando en la sabiduría y la fuerza del Dios de la Vida, y les pedimos que se unan a nosotros en este empeño. “Somos una comunidad en movimiento, una comunidad de peregrinos. Juntos caminamos hacia la vida en toda su plenitud. Oramos por que Dios nos guíe e inspire, de forma que nuestra peregrinación nos abra los unos a los otros por medio de una interacción creativa y dinámica a favor de la justicia. ¡Dios de vida, condúcenos a ser instrumentos vivientes de tu justicia y tu paz!”[7]

 

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AIDS Goal: Ending the Public Health Threat. 15/6/2016

Published by UNITEDMETHODISTCHURCH

The Rev. Anne Gatobu from the Global AIDS Fund speaks during the 2016 United Methodist General Conference May 18 in Portland, Ore. In the background are the Rev. Donald Messer and the Rev. Joan Carter-Rimbach. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

The Rev. Anne Gatobu from the Global AIDS Fund speaks during the 2016 United Methodist General Conference May 18 in Portland, Ore. In the background are the Rev. Donald Messer and the Rev. Joan Carter-Rimbach.

End AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

That was the pledge made earlier this month by participants in an interfaith prayer service at the United Methodist-owned Church Center for the United Nations.

The call to action issued by religious leaders focuses on reducing stigma and discrimination; increasing access to HIV services; defending human rights and ensuring testing and treatment for all, including children, reported the World Council of Churches, which sponsored the service.

Their pledges preceded the June 8-10 U.N. High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS. The meeting declaration — setting targets to combat HIV and AIDS over the next five years — brought both commendation and criticism, including the failure to mention faith in the outlined solutions and a “lack of language” regarding the key populations affected by HIV/AIDS.

How are United Methodists responding to the HIV/AIDS crisis? The United Methodist Global AIDS Fund was established by the 2004 General Conference to strengthen the church’s compassionate response to the pandemic. The fund supports programs that focus on prevention, advocacy, testing and counseling.

United Methodist News Service asked Linda Bales Todd and the Rev. Donald Messer, the fund’s co-chairs, to reflect on the fund’s work and upcoming goals.

Q: At a June 7 prayer service, a number of faith groups pledged to call on their own communities to support a plan to eliminate AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. Is that something United Methodists will be involved with?

A: Absolutely. We will be integrating the goal of eradicating AIDS by 2030 into our overall publicity and will certainly promote any forthcoming resources from the World Council of Churches.  The four areas of focus outlined in the WCC’s call to action parallel the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund’s existing work: 

  • Reduce stigma and discrimination
  • Increase access to services
  • Defend human rights
  • Ensure treatment for children (the fund does not provide drug treatment, but will be working with United Methodist clinics and hospitals via the health boards to ensure access.)

Additionally, the Global AIDS Fund has already brokered a partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America  for future initiatives that may result in additional partnerships with other worldwide denominations.

Q: Outside of scheduled events, like the pre-conference workshop and vigil for those who died of AIDS, did HIV/AIDS as a ministry concern get any kind of traction at General Conference 2016?

A: The United Methodist Global AIDS Fund heightened awareness and provided AIDS education during General Conference through several actions, which infused a level of energy into an issue that often has been marginalized by the denomination:

  • On three separate occasions, the fund distributed items to delegates reminding them that AIDS is not over and the importance of staying involved with this global health crisis as well as information about how to contribute to the Global AIDS Fund Advance. 
  • In addition, our oral presentation put a human face on the AIDS issue through a video featuring Sharon Thomas, a woman from Ohio who is HIV positive. Sharon's experiences with the West Ohio Healing Weekend included her plea for The United Methodist Church to stand strong in its support for AIDS ministries for those living with HIV/AIDS and their caregivers.
  • The fund's petition for the Book of Resolutions generated both discussion and action in the legislative committee and on the floor of the General Conference, which resulted in wide support for the fund’s continuation and its global and local programmatic ministries, including the funding of projects.
  • The General Council on Finance and Administration and the Connectional Table both made a financial commitment to the Global AIDS Fund for our ongoing work.

Q: Will the renewed emphasis on Global Health, led by the Board of Global Ministries, help increase denominational attention on the Global Fund?

A: Over the next four years, the Global AIDS Fund will strengthen its partnership with Global Ministries through Global Ministries’ Maternal and Child Health focus. That will serve as a way of integrating HIV and AIDS into related issues, such as nutrition, women's empowerment, children's health and prevention of HIV positive newborns, reduction of violence against women and children; and anti-malaria initiatives. Our funding strategy will strongly encourage community partnerships and collaboration with the respective health boards.

Another focus is strengthening the fund’s involvement with U.S. annual conferences in an effort to motivate more people in local congregations to learn about and respond to the ongoing AIDS epidemic in their communities and states. 

Q: What are other goals for the next four years? 

A: One primary goal is to help United Methodists respond to the continuing AIDS crisis through education and advocacy. We will sponsor three conferences —one in West Africa or the Philippines, a U.S. "Countdown to Zero" AIDS Conference in 2018 and a pre-General Conference event in 2020 — to help accomplish this goal.

Challenging unjust laws that discriminate against people due to their sexuality will be a part of our overall advocacy plan as we work in partnership with the Board of Church and Society and the AIDS Network, our primary database. Other vehicles for education and advocacy are our website, Facebook page and monthly newsletter.                       

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AJAN HIV & AIDS E-Learning Program - AHELP. 19/5/2016

Published by AJANWEB

AJAN has launched an online professional certificate course in pastoral and community care as part of its HIV and AIDS E-learning Program (AHELP). The course has attracted 20 students from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Togo and Rwanda. They have enrolled in the pilot edition that started with orientation on 1 March 2016.

The pioneer students include members of religious congregations as well as lay people, who have expressed strong interest in taking the course, which they describe as “timely, convenient and sensitive to the signs of time”. Some are working in the field while others have the desire to learn more about HIV and AIDS.

The course will cover five modules of three weeks each: a total of 15 weeks. It is being offered in conjunction with Tangaza University College, the accrediting body. Tangaza University College is a Catholic institution, which is co-owned by several religious congregations, most of whom have their regional headquarters in Nairobi.

AHELP has emerged from AJAN’s quest to provide accurate information, value-based education and professional skills to tackle AIDS in the African context. AJAN has long dreamed and planned to start online courses, which would enable the network to scale up its training programs in a feasible and cost-effective way.

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A Global Win for a Local Vicar. 11/5/2016

Published on Church of England, Birmingham

FIONA HANDSCOMB

Times Now, India’s English-speaking news channel, has honoured a West Midlands vicar with its most prestigious award for Indians living overseas. The winners received their NRI (Non-Resident Indian) Awards at a glittering ceremony in Mumbai in April, where Revd Joshva Raja was announced as a winner in the Professional category due to his contributions to HIV/AIDS awareness, community media and interfaith relations.

Revd Raja is the vicar of St Nicholas in Curdworth, near Sutton Coldfield, but began life in Pannaivilai, a small village in south India. While teaching at the United Theological College, Bangalore, he first encountered the ignorance and fear surrounding HIV-positive communities when a local priest asked his advice on whether to remove a couple from his church who had contracted the virus, in the fear that they may infect others when sharing communion. 

In consultation with medical professionals, Joshva took to the streets with students from the Theological College. They drew crowds using drama, puppet shows and music and then used these media to educate local people about the virus and its victims. He was called to sit on various governmental committees tackling the HIV problem and, with UNAIDS (United Nations Programme on HIV & AIDS), ran an international consultation on how faith groups can better serve communities affected by the virus. “Fundamentally, I wanted to change the negative attitude towards HIV sufferers into a positive one,” he explains. “We have a mandate to care for them, not blame and exclude them.” 

Revd Raja was also concerned about the wider media misrepresentation of religious minorities, women and young people with disabilities. Bringing media and faith groups together to discuss these issues on local and national levels, he developed a media literacy programme for schools to enable students to think more critically about media information. Furthermore, he petitioned the government to grant licenses for community radio stations, in order that alternative voices to the mass media could be heard. Following a UNESCO-funded conference investigating the matter, 250 licenses were granted to community stations, with a further 500 now also in operation. 

For Joshva, community broadcasting isn’t just an issue of media diversity, but has been a matter of life and death. He believes that at least half of the 12,000 Indian lives that were lost in 2004’s devastating tsunami could have been saved had communication channels been more effective. The instruction to evacuate was delivered over an hour after the tsunami had already hit the south east coast of India. In the wake of this appalling disaster, Revd Raja began looking into Disaster Information and Communication Management programmes, working with the UN to deliver training and infrastructure to NGOs in coastal areas of India and Bangladesh. 

Revd Raja’s work in interfaith relations began as a counterbalance to the misrepresentation of religious groups in Indian mass media. He organised dialogues between Hindu, Muslim and Christian groups to encourage mutual understanding, away from negative media stereotyping. These grassroots discussions took on national significance, with the Reverend promoting dialogue between faith leaders to encourage respect, understanding and concern for those of different beliefs. 

Interfaith relationships are of continued interest to the vicar. He is part of a regional initiative that encourages the Church to engage positively with communities of other faiths. “We can still be faithful and relate to others,” he explains. “Jesus always listened to his opponents, and appreciated the faith in others. Listening and receiving are just as much a part of our ministry as telling. This is how dialogue works.” 

The Rt Revd David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham, has offered his congratulations to Revd Raja: “We are blessed at The Church of England Birmingham with a diverse range of vicars who bring a wealth of experiences and backgrounds to their parishes across this region. I know that Joshva doesn’t expect awards for his work, but I am delighted that his practical, demonstrable care for marginalised communities across the world has been celebrated in this way.”

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AJAN's Online Certificate Course Takes Off. 4/2016

Published on AJAN

AHELP

 

AJAN has launched an online professional certificate course in pastoral and community care as part of its HIV and AIDS E-learning Program (AHELP). The course has attracted 20 students from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Togo and Rwanda. They have enrolled in the pilot edition that started with orientation on 1 March 2016.

The pioneer students include members of religious congregations as well as lay people, who have expressed strong interest in taking the course, which they describe as “timely, convenient and sensitive to the signs of time”.  Some are working in the field while others have the desire to learn more about HIV and AIDS.

The course will cover five modules of three weeks each: a total of 15 weeks. It is being offered in conjunction with Tangaza University College, the accrediting body. Tangaza University College is a Catholic institution, which is co-owned by several religious congregations, most of whom have their regional headquarters in Nairobi.  

AHELP has emerged from AJAN’s quest to provide accurate information, value-based education and professional skills to tackle AIDS in the African context. AJAN has long dreamed and planned to start online courses, which would enable the network to scale up its training programs in a feasible and cost-effective way. 

The final step in the implementation process of AHELP was a participatory workshop held in February 2016 in Nairobi. The workshop brought together the main stakeholders of the program, namely Jesuits and co-workers, as well as representatives of partnering institutions like the Medical Missionary Institute (MMI) and Tangaza University College.

Paving the way for effective collaboration, the workshop provided an opportunity to learn how to better use the tools provided by the online course platform and to engage students in the online learning process. 

- See more at: http://ajanweb.org/ajanweb.org/ajanews-articles/787-ajan-s-online-certif...

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Archbishop Calls for “Great Further Step” to End AIDS by 2030. 18/5/2016

Published by ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

The Archbishop of Canterbury has given his strong support to the work of community-based responses to the global AIDS epidemic. 

In a video message released in advance of this year’s High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS (8-10 June 2016), Archbishop Justin Welby celebrates the great progress that has been made to eliminate AIDS as a threatening global disease by 2030, and calls for a “great further step” the mobilisation of “political, financial, technical and clinical resources through communities” to make this a reality.

He praises the role of communities, and particularly faith-based communities, in providing treatment for the poor and marginalised. In particular the Archbishop highlights the role the Anglican Communion has played for many years in offering community-based treatment, “enabling communities to…support the victims of AIDS, their families and others affected directly and indirectly.”

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Catholic Groups Meet in Durban Ahead of International AIDS Conference. 15/7/2016

Published by RADIOVATICANA

Vatican Radio) Catholic organisations working on HIV and AIDS began a meeting in Durban on Friday, ahead of the 21st International AIDS Conference, due to open in the same South African city next Monday.

The meeting, organised by Caritas Internationalis and the Catholic HIV & AIDS Network, in conjunction with local Southern African partners, brings together many Catholic groups playing a major part in providing diagnosis, care and prevention programmes for people living with the HIV virus.

The papal nuncio to South Africa, Archbishop Peter Wells, and the Archbishop of Durban, Cardinal Wilfred Napier were among those welcoming participants to the opening session of the three day pre-conference.

Another key speaker at the meeting is Msgr. Robert Vitillo, Caritas Internationalis special advisor on HIV and health. He talked to Philippa Hitchen about the goals of the encounter and the progress that faith based organisations have achieved since the first global AIDS conference was held in Durban in the year 2000….

Mgr Vitillo notes that the Church has been organizing pre-conferences like this one for over 20 years to share good practices, to discuss the ethical and theological issues specific to the Catholic Church in AIDS ministry, and to pray for the work of the global conferences.

He recalls that access to proper medical treatment, especially for developing countries, began at the Durban 2000 conference, where activists demanded an end to discrimination and “second class citizenship” for HIV-infected people in poorer countries. From that conference, he says, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was born, followed by the U.S government’s PEPFAR programme, the two largest funders of treatment programmes in low income countries.

Access to treatment remains a challenge

While huge progress has been made since that first Durban conference, Mgr Vitillo says too many people in rural areas or minority communities still don’t have access to life saving HIV treatment. Furthermore, almost 50% of all people living with HIV still don’t know their status and are therefore likely to spread the disease to their sexual partners, he says. Another vulnerable group, he adds, are babies infected through breast- feeding after their mothers stop taking the ARV drugs.

Vital role of faith based organisations

Faith groups, he says, continue to play a vital role, often providing up to 50% of treatment in some countries. In particular, he notes, they treat people in rural areas where government programmes don’t reach and they’ve pioneered creative ways of bringing treatment to the communities in need, rather than expecting people to walk for a day to the nearest centre. Importantly, he adds, faith groups offer integral programmes, not just treating physical symptoms, but also responding to social situations, pioneering self-help groups and assisting widows and orphans.ù

Children: a priority in Durban

In particular, Mgr Vitillo points to the role of the Catholic Church in pioneering better pediatric treatment for children, recalling how Caritas Internationalis and other groups invited UN and government experts to the Vatican in April to draw up an action plan to address the specific needs of children. He notes that the main Durban conference is due to introduce a super-fast track for children – the first time they have received so much attention at an international AIDS conference.

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Children are Being let Down Over HIV Care. 17/7/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

hildren are being let down over HIV care

Dr. Luiz Loures, UNAIDS. © Paul Jeffrey/WCC

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.

Dr Luiz Loures, deputy executive director of UNAIDS and assistant secretary general of the United Nations said: “All the UN’s targets are aimed at 2020 but for children we have had to reduce the target by two years. Children cannot wait, HIV is coming back and it’s more selective. It increasingly follows areas of conflict, with rape used as a weapon of war.”

There was a warning from Dr Anil Soni, vice president of Mylan - the world’s largest generic manufacturer of antiretrovirals (ARVs) - that children need particular medicines and that we urgently need research to develop new drugs, even if they are not financially viable for the company. Soni said: “I heard that in China adult ARVs are crushed and given to children, which is not suitable. We are working on a new micro-pellet drug which can be sprinkled over food.”

Faith-based organizations (FBOs) were applauded for their HIV testing of children by Dr Deborah Birx, AIDS Ambassador for the USA government, who noted that FBOs were responsible for testing more than 4 million children last year. She said: “When much is done, even more is expected. We are now at a different place and the risks are more complex. Girls are at risk because one-third to one-half are not in school in many countries and their first sex is forced or coerced. We need to work within communities of faith to teach that children  should be able to grow up without being raped.”

 

The message to FBOs from Loures is that they were crucial in changing the face of HIV in the past and their expertise is required even more now. “We need the experience and the community-based approach of FBOs. Medicines and the clinical approach is not enough,” he said. “It’s about the way we care for people.”

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Church Leaders Undergo Public HIV Test in Battle Against Stigma. 27/6/2016

Published by ANGLICANNEWS

The Most Revd Ephraim S Fajutagana, Supreme Bishop of the Philippine Independent Church, undergoes an HIV test as part of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines public campaign to remove the stigma associated with HIV/Aids. 

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Christian leaders in the Philippines have undergone public HIV tests as part of a campaign against the stigmatisation of people with HIV/Aids. The Revd Rex Reyes Jr, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), told a press conference at the World Council of Churches’ Central Council meeting in Trondheim, Norway, this afternoon that it was part of an “aggressive educational awareness programme.”

Reyes, a priest of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, said that the “strong religious flavour” in the country was a defining issue in the way some people behave towards people living with HIV; and that the public HIV tests was part of a “more practical way” of dealing with the stigma.

Church leaders were undergoing HIV tests not because they thought they might have the virus; but “to project the necessity of HIV testing for our young people.”

He said: “Our young people are afraid to go for testing because of the discrimination that comes with it, because of the religious taboo that has been hammered home for a long time, the concept of sin and the notion of immorality, and so on.”

In addition to promoting HIV testing, the campaign was also designed to challenge young people on the issue of not discrimination and human dignity, Reyes said.

The stigma associated with HIV/Aids led to a large public backlash when a photograph of Reyes undergoing an HIV test was displayed on a huge billboard on the main highway in the country. “I was bashed for that and there was strong reaction from my colleagues to issue a statement,” he said. “But we [decided to] let it pass, because at least people are talking about it.”

He said that churches in the Philippines were working together on their approach to HIV/Aids. “It is stronger that way,” he said. “The theological issues are easier to deal with when we talk together.

“We recognise churches when they have their own initiative – and that is good. But to drive the point that HIV transcends denominations [and] transcends faith. We have to deal with that in an ecumenical way and I’m very glad that the WCC is leading in this area.”

Professor Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, the associate general secretary of the WCC, said that a statement on HIV/Aids was being prepared at the on-going meeting of its Central Committee. The statement, which will follow similar statements in 1986, 1996, and 2006, will ask churches to “recommit themselves to the work on HIV,” she said. “What this does is to show that we are united in the area of our HIV/Aids response. This is not for an individual church to act on its own but for all of us together.”

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Church Leaders from Around the World Speak of HIV Impact on Communities. 30/6/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

Churches are engaged at the grassroots level throughout the world in the response to HIV and AIDS, but the struggle against the disease and those stigmatized for being HIV positive needs to continue, say church leaders.

Two million people a year become HIV-positive and many of those infected are not even aware of their HIV status, said moderator Claus Grue as he introduced a group of panelists during the 23-28 June Central Committee meeting of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

“The billboards have been taken down, but within the WCC we realize it [HIV and AIDS] is not over, and we need to keep up the campaign to raise awareness in our member churches,” said Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC associate general secretary, referring to some African countries.

She noted that, in her home environment in Malawi, she and her immediate family have been directly impacted by the disease.

Phiri and the other panelists stressed that HIV and AIDS is a “medical condition and not a moral condition”.

The panelists also agreed that social and gender justice issues are all involved in taking care of the problem.

“We don’t know when it will be over. We will continue campaigning until it is over,” said Phiri.

She noted that WCC involvement with HIV and AIDS goes back to 1984 when awareness was just beginning.

She said that, with faith-driven affirmation of universal humanity, the WCC has worked with other ecumenical partners as well as the WHO (World Health Organization) and later UNAIDS.

Metropolitan Dr Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East said, “For us, the Orthodox, our theology is centred around the notion of the Holy Trinity - within the Godhead.”

Coorilos said that all life is considered holy and sacred and the characteristics within it are the values of mutuality, interdependence, dignity and justice.

“There is no room for any kind of discrimination, be it on the basis of sex, class, caste, medical status, disability, you name it,” he said.

Rev. Rex Reyes Jr, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, said the HIV and AIDS campaign in his country is in unison with the Orthodox position of dignity, humanity and the involvement of young people.

“Given the number of people with HIV in my country we have had to come out with more practical way of dealing the issues, that is, an aggressive education and we have to get the church leaders to walk the talk,” he said.

The programme encourages church leaders to have HIV testing in order to help encourage young people not to be afraid to get tested.

Reyes himself was photographed being tested and featured on a national billboard poster for which some people criticized him, but he said it increased national awareness on HIV and AIDS.

In the Philippines, churches have found they not only have to work together but also with allied organizations which are not necessarily faith-based organizations. He also said his church’s campaign extends to people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Rev. Amin Sandewa of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania belongs to a national network of religious leaders living with or personally affected by HIV or AIDS and he has a deeply personal experience of the disease.

“I lost my two daughters and my wife to HIV,” said Sandewa explaining that disclosure of the disease is vital in preventing it spreading.

“The challenge is why people are not ready to disclose,” he said, affirming the campaign of Reyes.

“In my network we have more than 400 religious leaders who are HIV positive but only 10 have disclosed,” he said referring to the stigma that still remains.

He said another challenge is that of sexual morality, agreeing that “this is a health issue more than a moral issue” and that, in seeking to educate people, churches have to reach out to people who may be ignored, such as sex workers.

“In Tanzania there can be clash between the religious approach and medical approach,” said Sandewa, espousing more openness in dealing with the disease.

 

Panelists emphasized that the scaling up of advocacy, accompaniment and service provision is critical in ending HIV. They were clear that this could only be achieved by the significant support and mobilization of the faith community.

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Churches Commit to “All In!” Campaign to End Adolescent AIDS 05/04/2016

Published at
Churches commit to “All In!” campaign to end adolescent AIDS

© Ayoko Bahun-Wilson/WCC

05 April 2016

Sexual and reproductive health services must be not just "youth-friendly" but also “male- and female-friendly" and "youth participatory" so that young men and women gain access to the information and services they need and want, agreed adolescents who attended a workshop in Lomé, Togo on 24-25 March.

About 35 adolescents from public, private and church-based schools from Togo and Côte d’Ivoire gathered to discuss the theme “Sexual and Reproductive Health, Violence and HIV Infection.”

The two-day workshop for 11-19 year-olds aimed to raise awareness of comprehensive sex education, reproductive health and the international campaign “All In! to #EndAdolescentAIDS”.

The All In platform for action and collaboration is based on a vision to end the AIDS epidemic for all by 2030. The All In international campaign is convened by a leadership group that includes UNICEF; Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS); UN Population Fund; World Health Organization; United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief; Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; MTV Staying Alive Foundation; and the adolescent and youth movement represented by the HIV Young Leaders Fund/the PACT and Y+.

Working with UNAIDS, the National Council for the Fight Against AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Togo, and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), the West Africa Regional Office of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA) enabled adolescents to listen to a representative of UNAIDS Togo who clearly commended WCC-EHAIA for being the first faith-based organization to officially take up the All In campaign by bringing together adolescents who have been left behind in HIV response.

It was also an opportunity for Dr Christian Mouala to confess that, in Togo, the campaign had not been officially launched, and express a wish for progressive and global work done by WCC-EHAIA with other partners.

Dr Angèle Maboudou, UNAIDS monitoring and evaluation officer, was requested to come back the following day and provide technical support.

The choice of the dates and the age group of the workshop were interpreted by Rev. Dr Simon Dossou, AACC representative. “Thursday in the Holy Week is a symbolic day and seeing participants all in black as a symbol of working toward the end of violence against women and girls is a powerful message. In addition the Jewish tradition says that adolescents will be fully part of the society at the age of 12 and the example of Jesus teaching in the synagogue at that age translated the place of adolescents in the society. Today, here are those the same age gathered to reflect on challenges faced by adolescents, as they have been identified as messengers to go and share the good news that they will learn.”

During the two days, adolescents participated in sessions on knowledge, practices and attitudes regarding HIV and sexual education. Participants noted that, frequently, a response to adolescents’ vulnerability to HIV infection consists of attempts to "keep adolescents away from sex." Teenagers may be denied school-based sex education because adults fear provision of such knowledge will promote sexual experimentation and activity. For the same reason, adolescents’ ability to access sexual and reproductive health services may be limited.

Nevertheless, such restrictions have neither stopped teenagers from engaging in sexual activity nor protected them from exposure to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV.

The influence of social media in the decision-making of adolescents, multi-partner sexual relationships, and intergenerational sexual relationships needs to be seriously considered to reduce adolescents’ vulnerability to HIV.

Adama Akpéné from the Young Men’s Christian Association in Togo said: “We need as adolescents and young people to change our behavior as the fight against HIV is no more a word but a behavior, a conscience, a self-knowledge and a decision.”

Contextual Bible study helped adolescents redefine concepts and contexts in order to come to the conclusion that adolescents should break barriers just like Jesus did in John 4.

The debate on sexuality, sexual and gender-based violence, and HIV highlighted the fact that adolescents — both male and female — should receive sex education so that they are well-informed about the reproductive process as well as the positive and negative consequences of sex. Such education needs to be offered within a broad sexual reproductive health framework because it is often the same risk behaviors and risk situations that place teens at risk of violence, STIs, unwanted pregnancies and, in the case of young women, unsafe abortions.

Participants agreed that greater efforts are needed to enable adolescents and young people to participate in designing, implementing and evaluating sexual and reproductive health services so that they become truly youth-oriented and youth-friendly.

World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative and Advocacy

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David Barstow, EMPACT Africa on Stigma and Discrimination. 9/6/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

Intervention by David Barstow, EMPACT Africa, on the UN Panel on Stigma and Discrimination, during the United Nations High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS, 8-10 June 2016, New York

Your excellencies, distinguished panelists, delegates. Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this topic of immense importance.

My name is David Barstow. I am speaking on behalf of the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, and other faith-based organizations. In discussions of stigma and discrimination, religious groups are often seen as barriers. But, in fact, there are many faith-based organizations and leaders, from all faith traditions, that are actively working to end stigma and discrimination. These organizations are dedicated to ensuring that all people are treated with dignity and respect, especially including members of key populations who have been marginalized by society. These organizations are working diligently at all levels, global, regional, national, and local. I would urge all of us to strengthen the partnerships with faith-based organizations and to scale up faith-based initiatives against stigma and discrimination. Unless we scale up faith-based initiatives, dramatically and quickly, stigma and discrimination will prevent us from reaching the 90-90-90 targets by 2020 and will prevent us from ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. In this regard, I would call your attention to a Call to Action and signed by religious leaders at an Interfaith Prayer Service on Tuesday evening, which includes a commitment to end stigma and discrimination, and to defend human rights. We look forward to continuing to work with you in the days and years ahead. And we pray for a time when there is no longer a need for a panel on stigma and discrimination. Thank you.

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Dignity, Freedom and Grace, Christian Perspectives on HIV and AIDS. 17/3/2016

Published on WCC

WCC-EAA booklaunch 10 March 2016
Dr Gillian Paterson

It’s an honour to be here, and have the privilege of presenting this book – which I saw myself for the first time last night – and it looks fabulous. I want you to know that it’s entirely accidental that I, too, am wearing black and red tonight. My mother, who was a great believer in colour coordination, would have been proud of me!

More importantly – to all of you, WELCOME TO THE CONVERSATION. Because that, in essence, is what this book has been: a conversation that’s been going on for five years now, since 2011. You may think the 23 writers who appear in these pages are a lot, but I promise you they are a fraction of the hundred-plus who have contributed to our discussions

So why this book?

From the moment when AIDS arrived on the scene, there’s been a connection between HIV and human rights. Think of all those stories of people with HIV or their families, who were thrown out of schools or work, killed or evicted: of pregnant women more afraid of a positive diagnosis than of having an HIV+ child: all the results of the stigmatization & mythologizing of this mysterious condition, lurking unseen within the body, somehow transmitted during the very process of generating new life.

Now HIV-related stigma was (is) partly due to fear and to ignorance which, in theory, are curable. In some religious and cultural contexts, it’s also due to the association commonly made between sexual transmission and sin, leading to the belief that AIDS itself is a punishment for sin. Not for nothing do the advocacy groups have the slogan: ‘AIDS is a virus and not a moral condition’. Enough to say that where these attitudes go unchallenged, prevention strategies will not be successful. Further, by making criminals of people who are particularly vulnerable to HIV (through commercial sex work, drug use, men having sex with men etc) we’re actively contributing to the spread of the disease by driving it underground and preventing people from seeking treatment. Further accurate data about HIV in prisons is hard to get, but there is every reason to suspect that conditions in prison make inmates particularly vulnerable to HIV.

These are very difficult topics, and also very hard to talk about. But why?

I want to suggest, in this short talk, that there are a number of powerful discourses operating in our conversations about AIDS, each of them supported by excellent and conscientious people. For example, some years ago I was invited to be an external ‘listener’ at an ecumenical conference on AIDS., which took place in Ukraine. On the way back to the airport, the main organizer (a young doctor) asked me what I’d thought of it. Very interesting, I replied, but why were there over 100 men and only 3 women? “In this country,” he said, “AIDS is a disease of men.” “Really?” I answered. “How about the 200 babies born HIV positive? They weren’t born to men were they?” He looked at me in alarm. “You’re going to start talking about human rights,” he said, “and gender. Westerners always do, but they don’t go down well here.”

“Me?” said I. “Talking about rights? No, I’m talking about public health.” “Ah,” he said. “Public health. That’s OK then. Maybe you are right.’

So what is going on here, and what does it say about the way we communicate with each other?

For the sake of this argument, I’m going to suggest that there’s a conservative-oral discourse (the one that emphasises sin), a public health discourse (the one my Ukrainian friend favoured, that emphasises screening, disclosure and the tracing of contacts) and the one that we label as ‘human rights’, which emphasises the intrinsic dignity of every woman, man and child, simply by virtue of the fact that he or she is a human being. It is our failure to translate between these discourses that leads to some of the difficulties we have in communication. Hence, when I was first asked to work on this publication, one of my colleagues remarked, ‘Goodness, I hope you come out alive –!’  

Well we knew it was a lion’s den, hornet’s nest or whatever: but we knew that if we were to do this job properly we would need first to understand what was going on and then to hear the different voices with respect. Which means that, if we have succeeded in what we’ve tried to do, YOU WILL NOT AGREE WITH EVERYTHING THAT’S SAID HERE. What you can hope for, though, is that you will gain some understanding of why it is being said.

What we have done, then, is to structure this book in four parts. Part One looks at some cross-cutting issues present in the overall response to this epidemic. Theologian Julie Clague talks about the history, limitations and possibilities of human rights thinking. Sally Smith from UNAIDS describes the challenges she faces in working with a foot in two camps – a UN organization and the world of religion. Suzette Moses Burton of GNP+ speaks about stigma in the context of her own journey as an HIV+ woman. Hendrica Okondo will tell you something herself about the work of YWCA with young women – who all over the world are particularly vulnerable and lacking in human rights. And finally Callie Long has discussed the human rights issues that healthcare services encounter.

But it’s not at the macro level of academia and international organizations that the real struggles take place: it’s at the level of homes and neighbourhoods and churches all over the world. Accordingly, Part TWO (Contextual Struggles) is entirely given over to accounts by 15 women and men whose personal experience of living with HIV (or in contexts where they’re personally affected by it) drove them to decisions that changed their lives. Our Part 2 writers, like the others, come from four continents and a range of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. We’ve been so moved by their openness and honesty, and by their willingness to share their personal experience with us, and with you – our readers.

In Section Three, we invited three Christian theologians to suggest theological approaches that might prove illuminating. Dr Mike Schuenemeyer (from the Uniting Church of Christ in the USA) analyses the undermining effects of a theological focus on sin. Rev Ijeoma Adjibade (a Nigerian priest working in the UK) reflects on the power of the idea of the ‘imago dei’. From SAfrica, Catholic moral theologian Dr Nontando Hadebe turns to the theology of the Trinity for a rights based model of community.

And finally – Lyn van Rooyen, director of CABSA, has worked with our writers to put together what is already in demand as an invaluable bibliography and resource list.

So where does that leave us? WCC and our partners in UN bodies are committed to a rights-driven agenda. This has been the case for the whole of my conscious life. Most of the nations of the world have signed up to part or all of the UN rights protocol. Human Rights law is complicated, and can be controversial, but it does provide the world with a baseline for holding the nations to account for what they do. Rights based arguments may sometimes be used inappropriately but they have a vital role in advocacy for just and humane treatment.

Nevertheless, that language (not the concept but the language) is not for everyone. The fact remains that not everyone is comfortable with a language of rights, even if what they’re actually doing is entirely in line with a rights based approach – a state of affairs you’ll find a number of times in Part 2 of this book, especially with contributors from Eastern Europe and parts of Africa. Interestingly, we may note that Pope Francis himself is sparing in his use of rights language, much preferring the language of justice and mercy to that of judgement and rights. Perhaps the next stage of this conversation might be to see what happens when we put the stress on the word ‘human’, and what the story of HIV to contribute to an anthropology of humanity would mean for us, in our time. But that’s for another day.

Now the world talks less about HIV today. It shows signs of moving on, as the world does, to other things. But AIDS is not over yet. And AIDS, and the response to HIV have changed us. Our churches have learned so much from their journey with AIDS: not just about rights, but about being in community, and about how religion impacts on health and healing. In Sierra Leone, during the Ebola crisis, it was to church-related community based HIV programmes that people turned for help. Lessons learned from AIDS have proved (are proving) crucial to the overall response to the Zika virus. So watch this space.

And before I sign off, some final thanks. To NORAD and to UNAIDS for their support with this project. To Michael West and his team for being such efficient and understanding editors, in what turned out to be an unexpectedly complex work.   To the editorial committee, and to all our writers and contributors. A very special thank you to Sara Speicher, who has believed in this project and kept it alive through all the uncertainties of the last two years. And finally, to Callie Long, my friend and co-editor, for all the crises and midnight skype calls, and times when we thought this book might never happen. Yesterday, Callie sent me this message to pass on, in which I whole-heartedly join her. She says:

“I am quite humbled to have been asked to be part of this publication; to work with the people whose stories make this publication what it is – that is, an incredibly important contribution to the conversation about human rights that must happen in relation to HIV and to the stigma that is so pernicious and so pervasive. My gratitude to the contributors who spoke with such courage and integrity about an issue that remains difficult, decades into the response. Above all, big ‘thank you’ to Sara and the editorial committee for saying ‘this needs to be done; this needs to be said’.“

Thank you!

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Dignity, Freedom, and Grace. 29/3/2016

Published on Svenska Kyrkan

HIV has ravaged the world and eroded the life from some 78 million people who have been infected by HIV since 1981. Of these almost 40 million have died. This seems a very grim picture, particularly at a time when interest in HIV seems to be waning fast. Currently we know that there are at least 37 million people living with HIV, and only 16 million of them have access to medication needed to treat HIV.

Book Discsion on Dignity, Freedom and Grace at WCC

Book Discsion on Dignity, Freedom and Grace at WCC

Factors which inhibit the rapid and complete roll out of a medical response to HIV are complex enough in themselves, but the factors which continue to fuel the fear, stigma and denialism around HIV are deeply entrenched in our society. In reality less than half of the people currently living with HIV know their HIV status. This means that the majority of people living with HIV are simply carrying on with “life as usual”, fearful of knowing their status or ignorant of the need to get tested in the first place.

HIV has attacked us at one of the points we as human beings are most vulnerable; our intimacy. Nowhere are we more exposed, more vulnerable that the moment we share at the deepest level with another person through the life giving, life affirming act of making love, or having sex. What feeds this vulnerability even more is our inability to want to talk about this most private of moments. Our reticence to talk about sex and sexuality is frequently fueled by religious teaching or rhetoric. Claims of sexuality only being possible if heterosexual, intimacy only being “legal” in the sanctity of marriage reserved to those our church chooses to extend it to, creates immediate inequality and additional vulnerability for those who find themselves on the outside of opposite sex attraction.

The Ecumenical Advocacy, one of the ecumenical Initiatives of the World Council of Churches, embarked on an ambitious challenge in 2011 by bringing together people of diverse doctrinal and denominational understandings in relation to human sexuality. The goal of these dialogues was to find a safe space to meet “the other”. Clearly debate was never the objective, rather an open dialogue which allowed participants to listen with love to those who held diametrically different views than their own.

Through support by NORAD and UNAIDS, EAA was able to not only hold successive dialogues, but to collect stories and articles relating to faith, HIV and Human Rights. In a book discussion held at the WCC headquarters on the evening of 10th March Dignity, Freedom and Grace was presented to the Members of the WCC Churches Commission on International Affairs. Professor Isabel Phiri, Associate General Secretary for Public Witness and Diakonia, spoke of the crucial nature of this publication, as a resource Universities would welcome, and researches would reference.

“Dignity, Freedom, and Grace broaches the truly tough questions faced by those with HIV and those who work directly or programmatically with them. It offers strong, substantive discussions of the meaning of human rights, its relation to the more religious language of church traditions, the contextual wisdom of key populations most at risk for HIV, and the best practices and theological reflection of Christian churches.” (WCC Review of the publication) http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/publications/dignity-freedom-and-g...

Jape Mokgethi-Heath

Om Jape Mokgethi-Heath

The Rev.d Fr. JP Mokgethi-Heath Policy Advisory on HIV and Theology

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Do We Have the Collective Will to End the AIDS Crisis? 13/5/2016

By David Barstow My Statesman

The AIDS crisis is not over. There is a widespread misperception that the medical and scientific advances of the last two decades have solved the AIDS problem, that it’s just a matter of time until everyone with HIV will be on medication, that there will be fewer and fewer new infections every year until they eventually disappear.

But it is not just a matter of time. It is also a matter of commitment and action. The question is whether the world has the collective will to persevere and finally bring this epidemic under control. This question will be answered at the upcoming High Level Meeting on AIDS, to be held at the United Nations (June 8-10), which will set the global agenda in the fight against AIDS for the next five years. The commitments we make in June, and the actions we take during the next five years, will determine the future of the AIDS epidemic. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

A recent epidemiological study by UNAIDS and The Lancet described two different futures. In one scenario, we take full advantage of the medical advances: new infections continue to decline and HIV is eliminated as a public health threat by 2030. In the other scenario, we fail to take the needed action: new infections begin to rise again and HIV comes roaring back in the 2020s. Over the next fifteen years, the consequences of the second scenario are staggering: 28 million people will be needlessly infected by HIV, and 21 million people will die, about the population of the New York City metropolitan area.

In order to prevent these infections and save these lives, there are two things that we must do during the next five years. First, ensure that HIV prevention and treatment services are available to all. This is basically a question of resources. Many AIDS activists expect funding to be flat for the next few years. But flat funding is exactly what will lead to those 28 million new infections and those 21 million deaths. Now is the time to commit the resources. If we delay even a few years, it will be too late.

Second, we must remove the barriers to prevention and treatment that are caused by stigma and discrimination. There is a societal tendency to view people infected with HIV judgmentally. Consequently, people at risk of infection are often reluctant to get tested and treated — they are afraid of what the neighbors will say and of what the authorities will do. The result is more infections and more deaths. As a Zambian woman said to me several years ago, “We’re not dying of the disease. We’re dying of stigma.”

Eliminating stigma is more than just providing HIV services to all. It involves deep societal and cultural transformation. For this reason, the active involvement of faith leaders is vital — they have the moral authority and credibility to advocate for the marginalized and to push for societal change.

Faith leaders are often seen as stigmatizers, because some actively spread judgmental messages and because many remain passively silent. But there are also many faith leaders and communities who have become the change agents who end stigma. They use their societal influence to address two key issues highlighted at a recent White House Meeting on HIV Stigma: they reach out to the marginalized groups who are affected most strongly by stigma, and they actively affirm the dignity of all human beings, helping to restore the lost self worth which is a central component of stigma.

I have spent much of the last decade working with local pastors in southern Africa, and I have seen the transformations they can bring about: stigma disappears and their congregations become places of hope for people living with HIV. If we are to end HIV as a public health threat, we must significantly scale up such faith community transformations. If we can mobilize not just thousands of local faith communities, but hundreds of thousands, then we will go a long way toward eliminating the stigma of HIV and AIDS, not only among faith community members, but also in broader society. Now is the time to commit to large scale mobilization of faith leaders and communities in the fight against stigma.

It is vital that our political and religious leaders recognize the moral urgency of the AIDS crisis in these next five years and make the commitments that will prevent 28 million new infections, save 21 million lives, and end HIV as a public health threat by the year 2030.

 

Barstow is an Elder at Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church and the Founder and President of EMPACT Africa, a Christian non-profit dedicated to ending the stigma of AIDS.

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Ecumenical Collaboration Enhances Capacity to Challenge HIV. 29/3/2016

Published on Svenskakyrkan
Written by The Rev.d Fr. JP Mokgethi-Heath Policy Advisory on HIV and Theology

“Women are strong enough to alleviate discrimination, stigma, oppression permanently. They just needed to be empowered and educated on their rights.” “Jesus revolutionized the role of women even during a time of acute patriarchy. It is refreshing to know that He is on the side of suffering women all along.” (Participants in the San Pablo Workshop)

For as long as I have been working with HIV I have worked with two groups in particular, INERELA+ (The International network of religious leaders living with or personally affected by HIV), and EHAIA (The World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy). Both initiatives have been seeking to address HIV from a faith perspective. INERELA+ and EHAIA have long collaborated in the work they have both been doing in Africa, and from this perspective it only seemed natural that as EHAIA expanded their focus beyond Africa, a key partner would be INERELA+.

Key aspects of engaging on HIV are both the accurate information about HIV, (prevention, treatment, care and support) addressing the stigma and discrimination as well as identifying and addressing the very specific vulnerabilities to HIV. More often than not these vulnerabilities run along the fault lines of exclusion and marginalization. Faith communities are not immuned from this, rather the pervasive patriarchal power structures and teaching within Christianity and other faiths feed into this paradigm.

It has been the incredible work EHAIA has been doing over the past almost 15 years that initially lead churches in regions of the world other than Africa to first call on EHAIA to share their methodologies and teaching, their capacity building and accompaniment there as well. Following the endorsement of this enlarged vision by the WCC General Assembly in Busan in 2013, the Philippines was identified as one of the countries which would be used as pilot for this expanding ecumenical initiative.

Working closely with local member churches of the WCC through the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), EHAIA and INERELA+ joined forces to use two highly respected methodologies in building the capacity of 27 women in a three day workshop held in San Pablo, south of the capital Manila. SAVE was developed by INERELA+ in an attempt to deal both with comprehensive all information needed for effective prevention of HIV transmission, but also to understand and challenge the roots of the stigma, shame, denial, discrimination, inaction and misaction (SSDDIM) associated with HIV. “In response to the continuing rapid spread of HIV and AIDS in the Philippines, the NCCP HIV and AIDS program together with the Women’s Desk continue to provide opportunities and spaces for comprehensive education and training to equip our churches in addressing this alarming issue,” said Ms. Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana, program secretary on Ecumenical Education and Nurture of NCCP.

The Contextual Bible Study model, taught in this workshop, was first developed by Ujamaa as an initiative from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Significant work in this regard was then done by EHAIA and the development of the Tamar Campaign in collaboration with the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians assisted in developing material that could be used to address sexual and gender based violence from within the faith community.

The workshop with 27 women in San Pablo proved an ideal opportunity to not only challenge women religious leaders on HIV, but to deal holistically with the many facets related to vulnerability. Through the clear and concise facilitation of the Contextual Bible Studies Rev. Pauline Njiru was able to highlight the way in which women in the bible have not only stood up to the powers of their time, but received strong endorsement from Jesus to be authentically who they are. Even though Tamar was raped by her brother, she did not keep quiet about it; even though the Samaritan women at the well was self-stigmatized, she engages with Jesus and Jesus engages with her; even though the disciples encourage Jesus to send away the women who is anointing his feet, Jesus praises her and gives her example of service to be something to be remembered every time He is remembered. Women are a key part of Jesus ministry, and without their ministry His ministry is vastly diminished.

Equally the content related to HIV was presented through the SAVE Toolkit in a way that allowed the participants to actively engage and identify HIV as an area of personal engagement rather than just a focus of ministry. Highlighting the key role of faith in propagate HIV related stigma allowed participants to see the areas where their own engagement could lead the church to be more empowering. What is clear is that bringing the two disciplines, the two methodologies together strengthened the content and impact of the workshop. In the post workshop wrap up session participant after participant not only spoke about the way in which they had been personally challenged and touched, but about the commitment they wanted to make to the group to further this work in a number of key areas.

At the workshop’s conclusion, Rev. Kadile said that “I can promote men and women to test for HIV. I can be more compassionate and understanding with people living with HIV and influence my organization to do the same. For youth organizations, I can educate them about being protected and to not discriminate PLHIV. I want to be partners with NCCP in promoting and advancing the cause for #PreventionNOTCondemnation.”

The collaboration between NCCP, EHAIA and INERELA+ has strongly impacted these 27 women, and through them the congregations and communities they work closely with. NCCP’s careful identification of the participants met that maximum impact form this workshop can be achieved. In a country UNAIDS indicates has the highest HIV incidents internationally, the role of faith communities will be critical to slowing and eventually stopping the further growth of HIV in the country. And these 27 women will form a key component in that engagement.

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Ecumenical Partnership Will Strengthen Support for People Affected By HIV and AIDS. 25/02/2016

Published at umc.org

25 February 2016


HOLLYWOOD, California: The United Methodist Global AIDS Fund and The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s HIV and AIDS Ministry have forged a partnership to collaborate on strategy and projects intended to reduce discrimination of persons infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.

"Stigma continues to prevail around the globe, inhibiting persons from getting tested and treated," declared United Methodist Global AIDS Fund Committee (UMGAF) co-chairs, Linda Bales Todd and Donald E. Messer. "Too often the church fuels this stigma by moralistic judgments and shunning infected persons and their families. Welcoming AIDS ministries sponsored by the church are urgently needed."

Meeting at Hollywood United Methodist Church in Hollywood, California, a congregation that has an AIDS red ribbon prominently displayed on its bell tower, the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund Committee (UMGAF) voted to find ways to form an alliance with the ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS, strengthening the efforts of both denominations.

ELCA AIDS Program Director, Ulysses Burley, challenged the UMGAF committee by pointing out that some 37.4 million people are infected worldwide, and that in the United States 44% of persons infected are African-American.  "This epidemic," says Burley, "must be addressed by the church through programs of education, awareness, capacity building, and stigma reduction."

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, ecumenical officer of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, noted that the ELCA is in full communion with United Methodists. She hailed the new agreement, saying, "If we are to champion global health and address diseases of poverty, then we must move beyond denominational silos to find ecumenical and interreligious approaches to ending AIDS in our lifetime."

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End the HIV Epidemic, Leave No One Behind! 15/4/2016

 

Published by EAA
United Nations High-Level Meeting on AIDS (HLM) will be held 8-10 June at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Through the HLM, the international community can demonstrate commitment to accelerating the HIV response with the goal of ending the AIDS epidemic.

Concerted advocacy by people of faith is a vital part of efforts to encourage governments to develop and adopt a Political Declaration with new and bold commitments – matched by funding commitments – to scale up prevention, treatment, care and support, eliminate stigma and discrimination, uphold human rights, and ensure the engagement of communities most affected. The Zero Draft of the Political Declaration will be released in mid April. From this point, civil society can advocate with governments for specific modifications or additions in the Declaration draft. 

Through the Live the Promise HIV Campaign, the World Council of Churches - Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance and its participating organizations have been active at international levels to ensure key elements and targets – especially addressing treatment, stigma, and investment in the HIV response – are included in the Political Declaration. Strong advocacy at national and international levels must continue, and we can all be involved.

What can you do? 

  1. Use the talking points prepared by the WCC-EAA in letters and visits to your government representatives and ministers, urging that your government support their inclusion in the Political Declaration.  

  2. Write letters to the editor or blogs, and use social media to raise public and media awareness of the High Level Meeting and the issues at stake.  

  3. Join the “countdown” to the High Level Meeting by sharing on social media the key messages on ending AIDS posted by WCC and UNAIDS (Use the hashtags #Ending AIDS #FaithAIDS2016 and #HLM2016AIDS). 

    Help push for the end of the AIDS epidemic and ensure no one is left behind!

For more information, visit the web page on the High Level Meeting or email us to tell us the advocacy actions you are planning: francesca.merico@wcc-coe.org.

 

image
Photo Credit: Paul Jeffrey/EAA

 

The Live the Promise Campaign of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance seeks continued priority on the response to HIV and AIDS, the elimination of stigma, and a significant faith-based contribution to the vision of ‘getting to zero’ – zero new infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths.

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, an ecumenical initiative of the World Council of Churches, is a global network of churches and related organizations committed to campaigning together on common concerns for justice and human dignity. Email: eaa@e-alliance.ch
 

 

 

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This action alert was sent to you by the World Council of Churches - Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance 
Photographs in this bulletin do not necessarily represent the situations, opinions or beliefs of the persons depicted and in no way imply their HIV status.

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Explanation of Position of the Holy See on the Political Declaration, “On the Fast-Track to Accelerate the Fight Against HIV and to End the AIDS Epidemic by 2030”. 8/6/2016

Published by HOLYSEEMISSION

Mr. President,

 

My delegation is wholeheartedly in support of efforts to intensify our collectivecommitment to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 and to accelerate and scale up the fight against HIV internationally, which is the primary aim of this declaration. We recognize that this goal will not be achieved without meeting the needs of those most vulnerable to infection and especially of those that continue to lack access to prevention, treatment and health care services due to discrimination, stigmatization, and poverty.

 

However, while discrimination and stigmatization must be combatted, it is of vital importance to distinguish between policies that discriminate and stigmatize unjustly and those put in place to discourage risk-taking behaviors and to encourage responsible and healthy relationships, especially among youth. In this regard, the Holy See continues to call attention to the undeniable fact that the only safe and completely reliable method of preventing the sexual transmission of HIV is abstinence before marriage and respect and mutual fidelity within marriage.

 

The Holy See, in conformity with its nature and particular mission, especially keeping in mind the work of the Catholic Church in the field confronting HIV and the AIDS epidemic, wishes to make the following reservations on some of the concepts used in this Political Declaration:

 

1.     Regarding the terms “sexual and reproductive health”, “sexual and reproductive health-care services”, and “reproductive rights”, the Holy See considers these terms as applying to a holistic concept of health. The Holy See does not consider abortion, access to abortion, or access to abortifacients as a dimension of these terms.

 

2.     With reference to the terms "contraception", “commodities”, “condom use” and any other terms regarding family-planning services and regulation of fertility concepts in the document, the Holy See reaffirms its well-known position concerning those family-planning methods which the Catholic Church considers morally acceptable and, on the other hand, family-planning services which do not respect the freedom of spouses, human dignity and the human rights of those concerned.

 

3.     In relation to paragraphs 1 and 2 of this Statement of Position, the Holy See reiterates its statement and reservations as set out clearly and more fully in the Report of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, and the Report of the 1995 Fourth World Conference and their respective follow-up Conferences. In particular, my delegation understands, in accordance with the ICPD 1.15, that no new rights or human rights were created, that recourse to abortion may never to be had for purposes of family planning (7.24), and that abortion is a matter to be determined in accordance with national legislation (8.25).

 

4.     With reference to "gender", the Holy See understands the term to be grounded in the biological sexual identity and difference that is male or female. Regarding the concept of “gender norms” the Holy See does not recognize the idea that gender is socially constructed, rather gender recognizes the objective identity of the human person as born male or female.

 

5.     With respect to "comprehensive education" or "information" on sexual and reproductive health, the Holy See reiterates the "primary responsibility" and the "prior rights" of parents when it comes to the education and upbringing of their children, as enshrined, inter alia, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In that sense, the Holy See wishes to underline the centrality of the family, as well as the role and rights and duties of parents to educate their children.

 

The Holy See would kindly request that these reservations be made particularly in relation to paragraphs 14, 15, 33, 39, 41, 47, 60 (e) and (f), 61(c), (d), (j), and (l), 62 (a) and (c).

 

 

 

 

 

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Faith Community Finds Strong Tools – Yet Fault Lines – in UN Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS. 10/6/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

As a United Nations high-level meeting on ending AIDS led to the adoption of a new political declaration to fast-track progress toward combating HIV and AIDS, the faith community responded, both with words of commendation and a call for changes.

The declaration — issued 8 June — includes a set of time-bound targets over the next five years and a goal to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

Religious leaders and representatives of faith-based organizations commended the declaration for its ambitious targets related to children and HIV. They also noted that, while there is adequate attention to gender inequality, there could be stronger language surrounding this area.

Faith-based response has served a critical, specific role in overcoming HIV and AIDS, especially in addressing social issues, yet many faith-based responders were disappointed in the declaration’s lack of specific mention of faith in the outlined solutions.

One of the biggest faults in the declaration is the lack of language on key populations — a lack so damaging that participants of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) call it a disgrace for continuing to feed stigma, discrimination and exclusion. They noted that refusing to acknowledge key populations could refuel the AIDS epidemic.

“What we need to do is make sure that the social and environmental factors that create vulnerability will be addressed,” said Rev. Fr JP Mokgethi-Heath, policy advisor on HIV and Theology for the Church of Sweden.

“HIV runs along the fault lines of exclusion – from society and from our theologies. Much is positive in the declaration. But in and of itself, it presents a missed opportunity to really name the fault lines and to really say that, if we are going to meet these targets of 2020 and 2030, a holistic engagement is needed.”

The most important aspect of the declaration is that it is a byproduct of a conversation, said Rev. Edwin Sanders, II, senior servant at the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tennessee (USA). “The declaration represents a step. We probably achieved all that we could in the face of radical differences in the way we think. We have to value the conversation.”

The challenge now is to turn words into action, he added. “To this  end, the Key Populations Investment Fund introduced on behalf of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief by Ambassador Birx is to be celebrated.”

Birx is the US global AIDS coordinator and US special representative for global health diplomacy.

The conversation could also be called “a process,” reflected Dr David Barstow, founder of EMPACT Africa. “To me the important thing was the process and what we can see from it. The major issues of dispute were around social issues. And a consensus was reached somewhere in the middle. The fact that social issues dominated the dispute demonstrates the need for strong faith-based leadership and action to address these issues.”

Faith community leaders agreed that the declaration emphasizes gender and children on an unprecedented level.

“It is an astounding win for children,” said Dr Stuart Kean, senior policy adviser on vulnerable children and HIV and AIDS for World Vision International. “We now have a target to get 95% of children living with HIV on treatment by 2018. It is an incredibly ambitious target, in which the faith community has an important role to play.”

With regard to prevention and treatment, Astrid Berner-Rodoreda, HIV policy advisor for the German Protestant development agency Bread for the World, notes:

“It is good to see clear targets mentioned regarding the reduction of new infections and putting people on treatment. But it seems the financial needs were toned down to what is realistically achievable, rather than what we need globally to end AIDS as an epidemic. Whereas the prevention and treatment targets are broken down according to regions and what has to be achieved by 2020, this is not the case for financial commitments. We are left with a lump sum in the declaration which will make it harder to hold governments accountable to their financial commitments.”

Faith groups should hold governments accountable

Even with its weaknesses, the declaration remains a key tool for accountability, said Francesca Merico, HIV campaign coordinator for the WCC-EAA. “Religious leaders don’t read these documents but political leaders do,” she noted. “Religious leaders need to be informed about the declaration so that they can hold the political leaders accountable.”

Faith groups are mentioned only once in the political declaration, and are largely included under the label “civil society.” But a faith perspective is different from a civil society one, said Rev. Phumzile Mabizela, executive director of the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV or AIDS.

In addition, she said, “punitive laws were not addressed enough and key populations are not being acknowledged.”

Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge, coordinator for the WCC Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA), agreed. “We want to be partners in implementing the declaration and to hold governments accountable. But this is easier if we are mentioned in the declaration.”

There is certainly an imbalance between the impact of the faith community and the treatment of the faith community in the declaration, reflected Jessie Fubara-Manuel, an elder of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria who also works with WCC-EHAIA. “Faith is not mentioned in the strategies to ending AIDS and yet we are instrumental in these responses. We have a big platform to get the message across.”

 

As responses continue, Merico reminded her colleagues across the world that it is time to not only become educated about the political declaration but to act on it. “Faith-based organizations and churches have a responsibility to engage themselves in the declaration and hold governments accountable for the steps outlined. In the end, this is not about political language — it’s about human lives, in fact, millions of human lives. We cannot forget that.”

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Faith Community Issues Call to Action: End AIDS by 2030. 8/6/2016

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aith community issues call to action: end AIDS by 2030

Rev. Edwin Sanders, II, senior servant at the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, signs the interfaith call. Photo: Gregg Brekke/Presbyterian News Service/WCC

At an interfaith prayer service on 7 June, people from diverse faith communities issued a call to action to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. The call focuses on reducing stigma and discrimination; increasing access to HIV services; defending human rights; and ensuring testing and treatment for all, including children.

The service, held at the United Nations (UN) Church Center in New York, preceded a UN High Level Meeting on AIDS, held 8-10 June. The service was presented by the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

Rev. Phumzile Mabizela, executive director of the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV or AIDS, urged her colleagues to remember that discussions about HIV and AIDS are ultimately about people, not numbers. “This is a life and death issue and we have a moral obligation to continue spreading a message of life and hope,” she said.

The service was a time to pray for a strong political declaration on HIV and AIDS and to strengthen the engagement of faith communities in the comprehensive response to HIV.

Although at times religion has been hijacked to prolong the type of stigma that continues to be a barrier to effective AIDS response, the faith community has largely been at the forefront of positive intervention, said Sandra Thurman, chief strategy officer for the United State President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. “Tonight we celebrate the best of our traditions, our firmly held values of inclusion, of peace and justice for all of human kind,” she said.

The message “Leave no one behind,” came strongly through WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit’s video greeting and highlighted by Sally Smith, UNAIDS’ senior advisor and community mobilization liaison with faith based groups and religions.

“It’s about naming people who have been left behind and about giving a voice to those who don’t have a voice,” Smith said.

Dr Christoph Benn, director for external relations for The Global Fund, expressed his deepest respect for the faith communities in the fight against HIV. “As national organizations, we need to redouble our efforts and, while there might be many differences, there is more that brings us together than what divides us.”

Secular and religious leaders also joined in recognizing the expanding role of faith communities in HIV and AIDS response. Dr Azza Karam, who convenes the UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development, recalled the era in which the UN, as a secular entity, began to open up and see the crucial role of faith-based groups just when the AIDS epidemic was at its worst. “It is a deep irony that it took the darkness of the AIDS epidemic for the secular community to begin to appreciate the role of faith communities,” she said.

Those gathered for the service not only signed a call to action, they also pledged to take the call back to their own communities and ignite, with renewed vigor, the plan to eliminate AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 through “Fast Track” targets in the next five years.

“It is time to take the great first step, mobilizing the political, technical and clinical resources to challenge AIDS afresh,” urged Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby via video.

Starting anew, remembering the beginning of the AIDS response, and renewing a call for action are all ways to ensure that people don’t fall into a sense of complacency, said Jessie Fubara-Manuel, representing the WCC-Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy.

“When I return home at the end of this meeting, I want to be bold and tell my friends living with HIV that they have not been forgotten, that none of us have been left behind,” she said.

Related links:

Interfaith Call to Action

Photos from the interfaith prayer on the eve of UN High Level Meeting on AIDS, 2016

Video: WCC general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit's message to UN Interfaith Prayer Service

More information on the High Level Meeting on AIDS and WCC-EAA talking points

More information on the Live the Promise HIV Campaign

 

 

 

 

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Faith Leaders Key to Women’s Welfare. 16/5/2015

Published in the Daily Nation

Health problems trigger a host of family, economic and social problems that ruin lives and weaken communities.

In Summary

  • In Kenya, as in many African societies, women’s access to health is largely determined by culture and tradition, which in turn are closely tied to religious beliefs. 
  • These traditions often tend to be driven by entrenched patriarchy, assigning women an ancillary place and little say in their destiny.
  • In Kenya, the average woman in Kenya bears 3.9 children, and in regions such as northeastern Kenya, fertility rate is 7.5. 

When Pope Francis recently endorsed the use of individual conscience in deciding whether to use contraceptives in view of the spread of the Zika virus, it was not just a landmark moment but it underscored the need for faith leaders to get involved more closely in contemporary health challenges. 

In northern Nigeria, a former global epicentre of polio transmission, Islamic clerics, who were once opposed to immunisation, turned into advocates for vaccination. As a result, Nigeria, one of the three remaining countries where polio is still considered endemic, has for the first time been polio-free for 18 months.

A profound realisation has lately emerged among health professionals that well-equipped health systems alone cannot solve today’s public health challenges.

Stemming from various highly complex causes, these problems can never be solved by a single approach, but by an array of stakeholders working at a number of long-term solutions. 

Today’s health problems trigger a host of family, economic, and social problems that ruin lives and weaken communities. More than ever before, there is a need for a knitting together of multiple partners to choreograph what are often distrusting stakeholders to deliver cohesive responses to the challenges.
Religious leaders can and should be far more directly part of global and local responses to critical problems.

Nowhere is their passion for seeking the common good more needed than in the drive for the empowerment of girls and women, the group that is invariably most affected by lack of access to health services and whose wholesome health is so central to the survival of entire families.

In Kenya, as in many African societies, women’s access to health is largely determined by culture and tradition, which in turn are closely tied to religious beliefs. 

Unfortunately, these traditions often tend to be driven by entrenched patriarchy, assigning women an ancillary place and little say in their destiny.

Passion and compassion for those who suffer are key pillars of most faiths, and this is why leaders of religion are well-placed to accelerate the quest for gender equality and empowerment. Giving girls and women the wherewithal to play their full part in a country’s development is not just a moral imperative, it is the only sustainable approach.

The first step is educating them and giving them the freedom to determine when to marry and how many children to have. A juxtaposition of culture and misplaced religious biases has for eons given men absolute control over women’s bodies. 

EARLY MARRIAGES

Female genital mutilation and early marriage are just two examples. The consequences do not just affect women, but entire nations. For instance, in much of sub-Saharan Africa, birth rates are too high for families to save or invest for the future.

In Kenya, the average woman in Kenya bears 3.9 children, and in regions such as northeastern Kenya, fertility rate is 7.5. The high birth rates are invariably in areas where religious teachings take a key role in every day decisions. There is, therefore, the opportunity to underline faith values such as matching family size with economic resources.

Another important area is cervical cancer, which currently claims the lives of 266,000 women every year, with the vast majority in developing countries.

Pre-adolescent girls can be protected for a lifetime from the main causes of this terrible disease through the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, which is available in some of the world’s poorest countries, often through vaccination activities in schools.

However, given that school attendance can sometimes be low for girls in many poor communities we need to find ways to reach these girls. Religious leaders can help by raising awareness about the benefits of the HPV vaccine as well as the importance of educating girls. 

All these messages will result in girls staying longer in school, abandonment of female genital mutilation and early marriage, fewer women being struck down by cancer, and the uptake of healthy choices such as child spacing.

These are the messages that will enable all of Africa to harness the demographic dividend as decreases in fertility combine with socio-economic policies that enable investments for the youth and ensure less dependent populations.

Religious organisations have not only been moral pillars in the community, they have also led in providing access to education and health for the marginalised. Now is the time for them to lead the drive towards demolishing harmful, man-made traditions and cultures. 

Dr Berkley, @Gaviseth, is the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Mr Chatterjee, @sidchat1, is the UNFPA representative to Kenya.

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Faith at AIDS 2016: WCC Preparing For Faith In Action. 11/03/2016

Published at Oikoumene

10 March 2016


As summer approaches, the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) is now in full preparation for the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016), hosted in Durban 18-22 July 2016.

Held every two years, international AIDS conferences draw over 20,000 researchers, policy-makers, activists, people living with HIV and others to share the latest advances and to help identify and tackle continued obstacles to the pandemic.

But why is it important for faith people to get engaged?

Francesca Merico, HIV campaign coordinator for the WCC-EAA, explains:

“Participation at the International AIDS Conference is an essential part of the Live the Promise Campaign, where the WCC-EAA advocates for access to treatment, eradication of stigma and discrimination, and most importantly, elimination of root causes of vulnerability to HIV transmission.”

Merico continues, “I think of AIDS 2016 and plenty of questions come to my mind. Can faith leaders and faith communities do more in response to the AIDS pandemic? Can faith communities do more to address stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV? Can they do more to achieve Universal Access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support?”

“I have one answer to all these questions: Yes we can, and we must do more.”

To encourage participation and engagement worldwide, the WCC-EAA has now relaunched www.iacfaith.org, where information on faith-based activities at AIDS 2016 is published. New updates and information will also be shared through WCC-EAA social media channels, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Sara Speicher, WCC communication officer and leader of an ecumenical media team gathered for the conference, comments, “Together we can increase the visibility and positive impact of the faith-based response to HIV by actively participating in AIDS 2016 – physically in Durban and virtually through all our communication channels”.

”The AIDS 2016 conference promises to be an intense networking, learning, and advocacy experience for all,” she concludes.

Conference preparations also include an interfaith pre-conference, planned for 16-17 July, to engage participants in exploring the challenges posed by HIV and AIDS to people of faith, and evaluating actions to be taken and planning strategies required to put Faith into Action for Access Equity Rights Now.

Among the list of faith-based participants, a series of programmes, sister-organizations and partners to the WCC can be found, such as the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (EHAIA), World Young Women's Christian Association (World YWCA), and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). The WCC-EAA’s serves a key role as coordinators and as providers of space for such faith-based participation.

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Faith in Action: for Access Equity Rights Now . 04/03/2016

Published at Oikoumene

Written by Francesca Merico

3 March 2016


Why should people of faith get engaged in AIDS2016?

The first time I took part in the International AIDS Conference was in Mexico in 2008. I was overwhelmed and fascinated. I was impressed by the large number of people HIV could mobilize, and yet I knew many people around the world had no idea of the difference between HIV and AIDS, and even worse, many did not want to know about it.

I was part of the Caritas Internationalis delegation and of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance team. My role was to promote the EAA paediatric AIDS action by mobilizing faith-based representatives to highlight the need of children living with HIV to have access to child-friendly antiretroviral therapy. EAA had developed a beautiful and smart postcard campaign directed at a target group of pharmaceutical companies: children living with HIV wish to have candy; they need drugs; but they are not getting anything. That was the time when most of the children living with HIV were given portions of adult ARVs.

At that same conference, the EAA had a booth for the “travel restriction game”. The EAA had developed an awareness game called “Around the World with HIV” to educate and motivate people to campaign to end HIV-related travel restrictions. The game aimed to make people more aware about which countries impose travel restrictions on people living with HIV and the types of restrictions in place. In addition, those who “played” the game were encouraged to take action with their own government and others to end travel restrictions.

Travel restriction game

 

I was proud to be part of such a team and energized by the compassionate and compelling participation of faith leaders and faith based representatives in advocacy on HIV.

Eight years later, I am part of the organizing group for the WCC-EAA Interfaith Pre-Conference and coordinating faith participation in the main conference. I am thrilled by such an opportunity. At the Interfaith Pre-Conference, we are expecting about 300 people from all over the world to participate in plenary sessions, skills building workshops and daily prayer. The aim of the pre-conference is to engage participants in exploring the challenges posed by HIV and AIDS to people of faith, evaluating actions to be taken and planning strategies required to put Faith into Action for Access Equity Rights Now.

I think of AIDS 2016 and plenty of questions come to my mind: Can faith leaders and faith communities do more in response to the AIDS pandemic? Can faith leaders and communities do more to address stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV? Can they do more to achieve Universal Access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support? Can they do more to eliminate the root causes to vulnerability to HIV?

I have one answer to all my questions: Yes we can, and we must do more.

The current situation of the AIDS epidemic demands an urgent global response, and faith leaders and communities are critical elements of that response. As people of faith we must act now. If we fail to act now, the disease will come back stronger than ever, new infections will start to rise again, and the AIDS response will lose its unique power to transform global health and save millions of lives. Solutions to HIV and AIDS are not possible without the active engagement of faith communities including in international fora where decision makers meet, advancements in science are announced, and key alliances are created. The International AIDS Conference is the world’s largest open forum on global health. These conferences provide a unique setting for the interaction of science, community and leadership and strengthen an evidence-based policy and programmatic response to HIV and AIDS. We must be at that table. We must talk to each other as faith representatives; and we must engage with other players.

In addition, the Interfaith Pre Conference is an opportunity to be inspired, re-energized, and challenged to expand and strengthen our efforts together to eliminating HIV as a public health threat by 2030.

I strongly believe that more we can speak and act together, the stronger our impact for justice will be.

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Faith-based Communities Increasingly Effective in Addressing Humanitarian Needs, says WCC General Secretary. 26/5/2016

Published by WCC

“There is a remarkable change towards acknowledging the role of faith-based communities and their resources to address humanitarian needs,” said Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), during the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), held in Istanbul, Turkey, 23-24 May.

“This is promising for those who need more assistance, and it is promising for the constructive cooperation needed,” he added.

The summit was the first of its kind in the 70-year history of the United Nations.. The motivation came from the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, who called for humanity to be placed at the heart of global decision-making.

The framework of the summit was built upon the principle that, in order to deliver for humanity, stakeholders must act on five core responsibilities: preventing and ending conflict; respecting rules of war; leaving no one behind; working differently to end need; and investing in humanity.

The WCC was represented at the WHS by the general secretary Tveit and the council’s representative to the United Nations in New York, Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, as well as by several member churches, national councils of churches and partner organizations, such as ACT Alliance and its members.

For Tveit, “the world humanitarian summit comes at the time when there are great needs and the resources available for humanitarian aid are shrinking. What is available should be used more to mobilize the local capacities and to use the competence and human resources at hand, for example, in the churches,” he said.

The WCC general secretary also said that the summit showed the need of global actors to be more consistent in preventing humanitarian catastrophes. “Wars and armed conflicts as well as other human-made catastrophes from environmental problems and climate change can be prevented, but they are causing a significant part of the humanitarian needs we are facing today,” stated Tveit.

“One dollar investment in prevention of humanitarian catastrophes can save seven dollars from catastrophe responses. It is a matter of justice and of focusing on peacemaking and preventing conflicts. It is also a matter of proper stewardship to address the needs for prevention in due time, to avoid human suffering and to be more rational in use of funds that are not sufficient for all needs,” he concluded.

The WCC participated in several events of the WHS, including the preparatory event for faith-based actors attending the WHS, “Evidence for Religious Groups’ contribution to humanitarian assistance and the special session on Religious engagement: contributions from faith communities to humanitarian assistance.”

For Bueno de Faria, many religious institutions and faith-based organizations have a unique comparative role advantage in humanitarian contexts.. “They have an established relationship of trust and familiarity with most local communities in which they are embedded. Due to their presence before a crisis, they are first responders and key providers of assistance and protection during a crisis, and many will stay after international organizations leave,” he said.

He also stressed that in addition to the role of churches providing first response in humanitarian crisis, they play a crucial role in preventing and resolving conflicts as well as promoting peacebuilding and reconciliation. “This is possible because of the inherent Christian imperative to promote human dignity, a concept closely related to the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace,” added Bueno de Faria.

 

The WCC and member churches was present in the main session of the WHS, including the opening session and panel on Political Leadership to Prevent and End Conflicts. The WCC delegation took met with several partners attending the summit, including Adama Dieng, UN special adviser on Genocide Prevention and Responsibility to Protect, to discuss the situation in Burundi; Justin Fortsyth, UNICEF deputy executive director, and Olav Kjørven, UNICEF director for Public Partnerships to discuss the existing partnership between both organizations.

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Faith-based Organizations Voice Concerns at UN Hearing on HIV 11/04/16

Published at

Faith-based organizations presented significant input at a 6 April United Nations civil society hearing in New York City, a prelude to a UN High Level Meeting on HIV in New York on 8-10 June.

The World Council of Churches - Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) offered an intervention summarizing key actions world governments must take in order to end AIDS by 2030. WCC-EAA partners also made interventions commenting on government partnerships with faith-based organizations (FBOs), ending stigma and discrimination, funding, patent agreements related to treatment, the need for a new research-and-development framework, and other issues.

Francesca Merico, HIV campaign coordinator for the WCC-EAA, spoke at the civil society hearing, describing five areas in which governments must make a focused commitment: addressing the root causes of vulnerability to HIV, ensuring no one is left behind, eliminating stigma and discrimination, providing sustainable and predictable resources, and creating a clear accountability mechanism for delivering on the agreed-upon commitments.

“Much has been achieved, however, much more remains to be done: 37 million people are living with HIV and 22 million people living with HIV are still not accessing treatment,” Merico stated. “Children are disproportionally left behind. Half of all people living with HIV are unaware of their status.”

Gershom Kapalaula, programme officer for HIV and AIDS with the Zambian Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS, is also a member of a Stakeholders Task Force established by the president of the UN General Assembly in partnership with UNAIDS. Kapalaula said that the faith-based organizations present at the hearing were sincerely committed to working “for the dignity and rights of people living with HIV, for an attitude of care and solidarity that rejects all forms of stigma and discrimination, for an open atmosphere of dialogue in which the sensitive root causes of HIV and AIDS can be addressed and for a strong advocacy to mobilize all the necessary resources for an effective global response to the pandemic.”

He expressed concern that many FBOs remain on the margins of national AIDS response for a number of reasons, even though evidence shows that FBOs have been, and are, major providers of HIV-related services, particularly to populations that are underserved by governments and other service providers. “The value of partnerships must be measured by the extent to which they contribute to reducing the number of people becoming infected with HIV and to reducing the impact on those people living with or affected by HIV,” he said.

Religious leaders also voiced their concerns regarding stigma and discrimination. Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, executive director of the United Church of Christ HIV & AIDS Network in the United States, submitted an intervention discussing stigma as a pervasive issue that continues to drive HIV infection rates and gaps in treatment, care and support. “Eliminating stigma is vital to stopping the spread of HIV and ending HIV-related deaths. I am talking about the prejudice, negative attitudes and abuse directed at people living with HIV which remains a significant barrier to effective responses to the HIV epidemic globally.”

Some religious institutions, as well as some people's religious experiences, play a significant role in the proliferation of HIV-related stigma, added Schuenemeyer. “We know, the evidence shows, that the consequences of stigma are wide-ranging and may be experienced because of a person's real or perceived HIV status, sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Astrid Berner-Rodoreda, HIV policy advisor for the German Protestant development agency Bread for the World, asked for clarification on the new figures provided in the report by the UN secretary general which reduce the financial needs by 6 billion US dollars with repercussions on the number of prevented deaths and new infections. She also honed in on access to newer medicines. “We need a new paradigm,” she said. “Patents on medicines have not been the solution in producing affordable medicines. Patents are part of the problem. The High-Level Meeting should clearly call for a new research-and-development framework, otherwise we will not see lifelong treatment for all.”

The WCC-EAA continues to foster a dialogue with pharmaceutical companies to ensure affordable and accessible treatment, particularly for children. Its HIV campaign, “Live the Promise” has specifically promoted comprehensive agreements between companies and the Medicines Patent Pool.

The weeks leading up to the June High-Level Meeting are a crucial time during which the WCC-EAA will continue to support religious leaders and faith-based representatives as they meet with their government representatives to discuss and help draft an effective new Political Declaration, Merico concluded.

“The more we can speak and act together, the better our voices will be heard.”

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, an ecumenical initiative of the World Council of Churches, is a global network of churches and related organizations committed to campaigning together on common concerns for justice and human dignity. Current campaign issues are HIV and AIDS, food security and sustainable agriculture.

The Live the Promise Campaign of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance seeks continued priority on the response to HIV and AIDS, the elimination of stigma, and a significant faith-based contribution to the vision of "getting to zero" – zero new infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths.

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HIV Still Poses Uncomfortable Questions For The Churches — And All Of Us. 18/03/2016

Published at Oikoumene

17 March 2016


Almost forty years after the advent of HIV and AIDS, people around the world living with HIV still endure assaults on their dignity and basic human rights—from stigma and discrimination to denial of legal protection and even medical care.

Bringing together people living with, working with, researching, or personally affected by HIV or AIDS, a new volume developed by the World Council of Churches - Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) and its global partners draws directly from on-the-ground experiences of frontline actors in the churches and agencies.

In a session at the Ecumenical Centre, the volume was introduced last week by an expert panel, including co-editor Gillian Paterson of Heythrop College, University of London; World YWCA programme manager for sexual and reproductive health Hendrica Okondo; the UNAIDS liaison with faith-based organizations Sally Smith; and contributor JP Mokgethi-Heath of the Church of Sweden.

A major task of the volume, panelists explained, is bridging the sometimes conflicting languages of human rights—the standard framework of international and civil-society agencies--and the more religious framework of human dignity rooted in the image of God, a notion deeply held by Christian churches.

Paterson welcomed people to “the conversation” acknowledging that this dialogue is often difficult for people to hold because of fear, ignorance, associations with sin, and criminalization of many of those particularly vulnerable to HIV.

“We knew that if we were to do this job properly we would need first to understand what was going on and then to hear the different voices with respect,” said Paterson. “Which means that, if we have succeeded in what we’ve tried to do, you will not agree with everything that’s said here.  What you can hope for, though, is that you will gain some understanding of why it is being said.”

The 23 contributors’ insights and reflections--always lively, sometimes uncomfortable, often deeply moving—search for common ground in combatting HIV.

The volume broaches the truly tough questions faced by those with HIV and those who work directly or programmatically with them. It offers strong, substantive discussions of the meaning of human rights, its relation to the more religious language of church traditions, the contextual wisdom of key populations most at risk for HIV, and best practices and theological reflection of Christian churches.

“This book brings together the issues and insights that have been raised since the EAA intentionally began these conversations in 2011,” says Manoj Kurian, WCC-EAA coordinator. “By combining personal experience, historical and practical background, and theological insights, we hope the publication can help individuals and groups find the words and the space to talk together, and find common ways forward because AIDS is not over yet, and will not be until stigma and discrimination is overcome.”

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, an initiative of the World Council of Churches, is a global network of churches and related organizations committed to campaigning together on common concerns for justice and human dignity. Current campaign issues are HIV and AIDS, food security, and sustainable agriculture.

Development of the project and the volume was supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and UNAIDS, along with the World Council of Churches.

Dignity, Freedom, and Grace: Christian Perspectives on HIV, AIDS, and Human Rights, edited by Gillian Paterson and Callie Long will be available later this month from bookstores and from WCC Publications’ distributors in North America (isbs.com) and UK/Europe (albanbooks.com), as well as online retailers.

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HIV/AIDS Fight Taken to Pulpits. 25/5/2016

Published by

Vinand Nantulya, the director general, Uganda AIDS Commission

Ever since HIV/Aids became a pandemic characterising sub-Saharan Africa, stigma has proven to be a barrier to successful intervention. 

Existing social inequalities based on, among other things, gender and age, reinforce stigma, a form of prejudice that comes with shaming HIV patients. Peter Odwor, 56, has been living with HIV/Aids for some time and shares the effects of stigma if a person living with HIV is not strong or if they don’t get support.

Odwor said he once went to withdraw money from a bank and on returning to his workplace, he saw people pointing fingers at him; apparently, news had spread of his HIV status, which he had not disclosed to anybody at his workplace.

“I was very disturbed, I stopped working and started sitting at home thinking how useless I was to society and my family,” he said. “I did not tell my family of my plight at work but soon they realised my mood had changed. I decided to sell my land in Kabalagala and go back to the village.”

Odwor, a father of eight, was convinced Kampala was not a place for people living with HIV/Aids.

“As I was waiting for a customer to come and buy my plot, a friend told me that Nsambya Home Care (NHC) had organised a two-day training on stigma; so, I just decided to give it a try,” he narrated. “I asked my friend; and what is this stigma? He also was not aware; so, we decided to sit and wait for this ‘Mr Stigma’.”

Odwor confesses the conference educated him about stigma and he changed his mind about selling his prime land.

“Today I have developed the piece of land and built rental houses,” he said.

Odwor is one of the few people who have got a chance to get information on stigma and have gone back to live their lives purposefully. Some people are not that fortunate.

THE SURVEY 

Two surveys on stigma were conducted in 2014 and 2015; termed ‘PLHIV Stigma Index Report for Central and South Western Uganda’ released by National Forum for People Living with HIV& Aids Networks in Uganda (NAFOPHANU), Kitovu Mobile and Nsambya Home Care; the findings show that stigma has reduced.

In 2014, the incidences of stigma stood at 53.7 per cent in the districts of Kampala, Masaka, Mukono, Wakiso, Sembabule and Kalungu.

“We did a baseline survey, followed by interventions using faith leaders and PLHIV as change agents, and when we did the second survey 2015, the incidences had reduced to 35 per cent,” Nannyonga said.

The survey randomly sampled 2,018 people living with and affected by HIV/Aids in 2014 and 1,980 in 2015.

According to Stella Kentutsi, the executive director, NAFOPHANU, the drop in stigmatisation is attributed to the intervention of religious leaders and other volunteers.

“The role of religious leaders cannot be ignored in the fight against HIV/Aids; sometimes these leaders cause stigma unknowingly, but after several seminars and civic education, we found out that people are stigmatised less in worship places,” she said.

UAC REACTS 

Prof Vinand Nantulya, the chairman, Uganda Aids Commission (UAC), said it was good news that stigma was reducing especially in areas where the disease prevalence is high.

“In Uganda we have a bold statement where everyone regardless of status, religion, age will receive uninterrupted medical care and fight stigma. We have succeeded in bringing down the pandemic,” he said. 

According to Nantulya, UAC is ready to work with leaders at different levels so as to kick stigma out.

“We have engaged the religious leaders and they have agreed to deliver HIV messages to their followers; they agreed that we design the messages,” he said. “We are going to take sect by sect and also work with the Inter-Religious Council."

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HIV/AIDS is Limited Priority for Church. 9/5/2016

Published on UMC by Kathy L. Gilbert

photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

Dr. Pauline Muchina and the Rev. Donald E. Messer look over the program before the start of "AIDS is Not Over!...Global Issues and the Church" held at Rose City Park United Methodist Church in Portland, Ore. 

In a world where 37 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, a budget of $62,000 for the United Methodist Global Aids Fund is “a sin, a scandal, an embarrassment and a shame” said Bishop Gregory Palmer at a fund event on May 9.

“AIDS is Not Over! ... Global Issues and the Church” was a daylong workshop featuring United Methodist leaders and laity from around the world, an AIDS scientist and people living with HIV/AIDS. The event was held at Rose City Park United Methodist Church, one day before the denomination’s 2016 General Conference.

“I think the theme of this event says it all: AIDS is not over yet,” said the Rev. Don Messer, who has been working to raise funds for AIDS since the 2004 United Methodist General Conference approved the Global AIDS Fund. The church at that time committed to raise $3 million through apportionments and match it with an additional $5 million through Advance gifts.

The fund has raised over $3.5 million as of today and the money has gone to 284 projects in 44 countries, he said.

‘We can do more’

“We can do more; we must not leave this General Conference lacking the resources we need to do this work,” Palmer said.

Dr. Nancy L. Haigwood, scientist and leading researcher in the field of HIV, told participants when she works to raise funds for AIDS research she is often told that “the problem has been solved.”

AIDS is no longer the death sentence it was 30 years ago, but resources are very limited in many areas of the world, she said.

Joyce Torio, an AIDS advocate from the Philippines, said there are 22 new cases of HIV/AIDs every day in her country. “It is projected we will have 133,000 infected by 2022. One in four young people from the ages of 15-24 have HIV/AIDS."

AIDS education is a top priority, she said. “We need to go to the villages, churches and schools.”

Bob Skinner, who is HIV/AIDS positive, works with the Oregon-Idaho Conference to sponsor retreats for people living with AIDS. Infected in the 1990s, he lived for years without knowing. He said he spends $3,000 a month for his treatments.

“But how can you put a price on a person’s life?” he asked. “There is no reason for new infections.”

Preventing transmission

In a workshop on preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, Colette “Coco” Ramazani from the Democratic Republic of Congo told her story of getting HIV/AIDS when she was raped by her employer on her first job. She was also a victim of rape by soldiers and a Pentecostal pastor. She escaped to the U.S. and told her story in a book, “Tell This to My Mother,” by Joseph Mwantuali.

“I wished for death every day of my life but I am still breathing,” she said. “This is personal for me because I have wanted to be a mother since I was a child.

“I must be the last one (to get AIDS),” she said.

We are still trying to wake a sleeping church, Messer said.

“We have the capacity to end AIDS in our lifetime, but we will not do that as long as the church remains silent and apathetic, as long as education and messages of care and prevention are not shared with all the people of the world.”

Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

 

 

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Honest Feelings About HIV Shared by Church Leaders, Youth in Tanzania Workshop 19/4/2016

Published at

Honest feelings about HIV shared by church leaders, youth in Tanzania workshop

Photo: Pauline Njiru

19 April 2016

A workshop in Tanzania created a “safe space” in which adolescents, church leaders, theologians, development practitioners and others could share their feelings and ideas about HIV response.

Participants, who described the workshop as “transformative,” said they felt both informed and  energized.

The World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA), in collaboration with the YWCA and the International Network of People Living with or Personally Affected by HIV, held the workshop in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on 28 March - 1 April.

Rev. Pauline Wanjiru Njiru, East Africa regional coordinator for WCC-EHAIA, and Prof. Ezra Chitando, theology consultant for WCC-EHAIA, facilitated the workshop.

Adolescents shared their challenges in life in general, and within churches and homes in particular, while adults shared their fears and challenges in responding to the needs of adolescents. The goal of the workshop was for young people and elders to better understand each other’s point of view so that churches will be better equipped to be relevant in HIV responses.

The workshop was founded on a model of providing a safe space and “spaces of grace.” In many African communities, young people are not expected to attend the gatherings of adults and contribute their ideas. However, in order to address sexual and reproductive health rights and HIV, families and the church have to take young people’s contributions seriously. They must create “safe spaces” for life-transforming conversations. The workshop presented an opportunity for young people and church leaders to openly and honestly engage on issues of sexuality, gender, culture and tradition. The facilitators used contextual bible study, dialogue and presentations by specialists to promote equal chances to share and contribute ideas.

“We have learned a lot from our young people, and we would like to create safe spaces in our church to keep learning and guiding our young people,” one church leader said.

The young people said girls who get pregnant before they are married are severely stigmatized. This has pushed young people to use conventional medicine to prevent pregnancy after they have been exposed to pre-marital sex. The girls said that they actually fear being pregnant more than being infected with HIV.  For the facilitators, the “SAVE” — or safer practices, access to treatment, voluntary counseling and testing, and empowerment — methodology was useful in explaining to young people the dangers of HIV and how to prevent it. The SAVE methodology includes abstinence and delay of sexual activity.

At the opening session,  Bishop Dr Steven W. Mang’ana, Mennonite Church in Tanzania, expressed gratitude to the WCC team for the timely workshop. He highlighted that women, children and the youth form a large part of believers and are greatly affected by HIV and AIDS. He asked participants to further explore God’s call to Christians in the context of HIV and AIDS.

Church leaders who participated in the workshop agreed to network to support each other in HIV response.

“Workshops such as this increase a sense of solidarity within and among churches,” said Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge, WCC-EHAIA coordinator. “If we are going to see progress in addressing sexual and reproductive rights, upholding the dignity of all, and achieving social transformation, churches and families must continue to create safe spaces where meaningful dialogue can occur.”

World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy

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Human Rights Standards Must Guide Global Response to HIV, WCC Urges. 11/3/3016

From WCC.

Policymakers, programme managers, and service providers — including faith communities — must use more human rights norms and standards to guide a global response to HIV, said a statement submitted by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, an ecumenical initiative of the World Council of Churches (WCC), to the Human Rights Council on 11 March in Geneva.

The statement, delivered to a Thematic Panel Discussion on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights, will be part of significant input brought to the United Nations General Assembly in preparation for the 2016 HIV/AIDS High-level Meeting in New York in June. At that meeting, a Political Declaration will be approved.

“We call attention to the fact that, while the importance of bringing HIV and AIDS policies and programmes in line with international human rights law is generally acknowledged, in reality this is rarely carried out,” said the statement. Francesca Merico, HIV campaign coordinator for the WCC-Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, helped lead the development of the statement.

To ensure “Fast Track” and Sustainable Development Goals targets are met by 2030 — to guarantee zero new HIV infections in babies; zero deaths among children and adults; and zero stigma and discrimination — the WCC urged a commitment within the UN’s new Political Declaration to four human rights-related areas.

The declaration should:

Address the root causes of vulnerability to HIV. A global response to HIV should place the leadership of people living with and most affected by HIV at the centre of the global response. Key to this response is “partnering with civil society organizations, including faith-based organizations, to understand and address all barriers (legal, economic, social and cultural) that sustain and enforce injustices that contribute to the spread of HIV, including stigma, discrimination, homophobia and gender inequality,” reads the WCC statement.

Achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. No one should be left behind in achieving the “Fast Track” targets: 95% of people living with HIV knowing their status; 95% of people who know their status on treatment; and 95% of people on treatment with suppressed viral load; with fewer than 200 000 people newly infected with HIV; fewer than 200,000 people dying from AIDS-related causes; and elimination of HIV-related stigma and discrimination.

Eliminate stigma and discrimination. The declaration should commit to eliminating HIV-related stigma and discrimination among service providers in healthcare, workplace and educational settings, including through trainings and evidence-based effective interventions.

Ensure an independent accountability mechanism to monitor the implementation of the Political Declaration. The declaration should commit to a clear accountability mechanism that builds on previous monitoring systems.

The panel, comprised of experts and representatives of affected populations, reviewed the progress achieved in addressing human rights issues in the context of efforts to end the epidemic of AIDS by 2030, including successes, best practices and lessons learned. The thematic panel, held for three hours, was opened and presided by the president of the Human Rights Council. The High Commissioner for Human Rights delivered an opening statement.

More information on the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance

Full text of statement from the WCC-EAA at the Human Rights Council (11 March 2016

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In Ghana, Women Bring Open Minds, Honest Words. 5/7/2016

Published by OIKUOMENE

As they talk during a workshop in Ghana, women are collectively asking a question: “Is it not time for women and girls to raise their voices to say what they want as mothers, as widows, as single parents, and as God’s children?”

In Ghana, women bring open minds, honest words

Rev Phumzile Mabizela

Ayoko Bahun-Wilson, coordinator for the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA), West Africa region, helps women formulate this question as well as the answer: “All women want their children to be born HIV-negative, want their children to be safe, go to school and have a bright future, they want themselves, their daughters and sisters to walk freely on the street and not fear to be abused or raped, they want their community and society to be a place of joy, peace, freedom and justice.”

The International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV or AIDS (INERELA+), in collaboration with WCC-EHAIA, is training women leaders who will help communities honestly confront the stigma attached to HIV. By encouraging female religious leaders to become more engaged in responding positively to HIV in their own lives, as well as in the served community, workshops are bringing together religious leaders from Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Seventh-Day Adventist, Ahmadiyyah and Muslim communities.

One of the most recent workshops was held in Aburi, Ghana from 20-23 June. Sponsored by INERELA+ in collaboration with INERELA+, Ghana chapter, and the WCC-EHAIA, the three-day capacity building intervention workshop aimed at promoting the SAVE (safer practices; available medication and treatment; voluntary counseling; and testing and empowerment) methodology, dispelling some of the myths about HIV and AIDS, exploring the connection between gender and HIV, and developing a gender-based message about HIV and AIDS prevention in Ghana.

Participants saw the importance of having an open mind during sessions on sex and sexuality which created spaces for better understanding and building confidence and trust. Themes on homosexuality, masturbation and condoms have enabled participants to share myths and their own perceptions which are then discussed and corrected, keeping in mind that culture and religion continue to hinder education and empowerment on issues related to sex and sexuality in Ghana.

Rev. Phumzile Mabizela from INERELA+ emphasized separating issues that are religious versus issues of the flesh. Considering the context and issues behind the advice given to children and youth is very important, she said, adding: “Knowing one’s body is key to enjoying sex.”

Discussing patriarchy and discrimination of women in the church and mosques has created room for women to raise their voices on the realities and abuses that are being seen. This led  the workshop participants to discuss the human rights violations and gender inequalities to address the immediate problem of HIV and AIDS and the longstanding inferiority of women.

Providing the right education and creating safe space for dialogue between wives and husbands, parents and children are critical to building the future, emphasized workshop leaders. They determined that women have a leadership role in creating safe spaces for themselves and their children to discuss gender roles and face related issues.

The group gave firsthand evidence that there is a need for culturally and age-appropriate sex education for parents, adolescents, children and youth in order to reduce the sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

As a way forward, participants agreed to create opportunities to advocate for gender equity for youth and to create safe spaces for men and women separately in congregations to discuss and empower them on sex-related issues. Ultimately, the workshop also challenged the group on human rights, reducing vulnerability and decreasing the impact of stigma and discrimination.

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In Nigeria, End to Stigma Begins in the Bible. 10/6/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

After leading a workshop in Nigeria covering HIV and AIDS response, Jessie Fubara-Manuel recalls when AIDS response was in a much darker era. “The first stage of response was full of fear, characterized by judgment and rejection, a feeling that AIDS was a punishment from God,” she said.

Thankfully, many people have evolved beyond that theology, she said. “Governments and churches have been collaborating with local and national HIV-responders to educate people about HIV transmission.”

Now, she said, she worries about a sense of complacency which, if augmented, can tragically lead to destruction. “In Nigeria, the AIDS epidemic continues,” she said, “because Nigeria is a country at war with itself, and it is more vulnerable to HIV.”

Sexual- and gender-based violence are significant risk factors in increasing the rates of HIV infection. In a workshop held 25-26 May, organizers used contextual Bible study (CBS) to help church leaders and theologians explore causes and responses to sexual- and gender-based violence. CBS involves identifying Biblical texts that help advance themes and issues occurring in a community at any given time.

Sponsored by the West Africa Regional Office of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA), the workshop will ultimately help future church leaders as they work in Nigeria.

Workshop participants received practice in identifying scriptures that will help people cope in their own communities, Fubara-Manuel said.“We are trying to help people see the process of using CBS to focus on issues related to health, HIV, violence, quality of life, and dignity. In other words, how can faith-based leaders use the scriptures wisely to discuss the issues?”

Within any given community, every local story is different, she added. At the end of the workshop, organizers asked participants to formulate three goals for their communities, then send a report after three months. “In this way,” she said, “we will find out the impact.”

Workshop participants also showed their support for the a “Thursdays in Black” campaign against sexual and gender-based violence. By wearing black, they became part of a global movement urging an end to violence against women.

Along with women, young people are particularly vulnerable to HIV, and they need to feel accepted by their churches, said Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge, WCC-EHAIA coordinator. “Churches have a vital role in encouraging people to take responsibility for their own sexual health,” she said. “Stigma and discrimination can be a death sentence.”

When people with HIV are accepted in their communities and in their churches, they live longer and the very acceptance serves as a healing balm. “Here, the church can make the difference between a person thriving and perishing,” she added.

Prior to the workshop, EHAIA representatives met with UNAIDS and UNICEF country representatives to discuss ways to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV. “Churches can do tremendous work in reaching out to pregnant women who may not have access to adequate pre-natal care,” said Njoroge.

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Interfaith Service to Precede UN High-Level Meeting on AIDS. 31/5/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE.ORG

A clear, global interfaith call to action to end the AIDS epidemic will be unveiled at an interfaith service on 7 June at 5:30 p.m. in the Church Center of the United Nations, 777 United Nations Plaza in New York City.

The service will precede an 8-10 June UN High Level Meeting on AIDS at which world leaders will adopt a concise, action-oriented Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS. The declaration will express the commitment of nations to HIV response, and serve as a point of accountability for achieving the goals for ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030.

Speakers include Rev. Phumzile Mabizela, executive director, INERELA+ (an international, interfaith network of religious leaders living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS) and representatives from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the United Nations Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development, World YWCA and faith leaders from different traditions.

The service will prepare faith leaders to engage their communities in action and advocacy that ultimately will strengthen international response to HIV.

Media opportunities and resources

There will be photo opportunities of religious leaders gathered in front of the United Nations building and walking to the Church Center chapel before the service. B-roll footage will also be offered free to news editors via Dropbox.

For more information concerning the interfaith service, please contact:

Marianne Ejdersten, WCC director of communication, mej@wcc-coe.org or +41.79.507.6363.

Sara Speicher, communication officer, WCC-Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, sara.speicher@wcc-coe.org or +44 7821 860 723.

Susan Kim, susankim1@mac.com, or +1-301-651-8055.

Background on the interfaith service

The service will be organized by the World Council of Churches-Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) in cooperation with UNAIDS, United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and United Nations Inter-agency Task Force on Religion and Development.

The event is an opportunity to gather in prayer to remember those who have died of AIDS; celebrate the progress made so far in the global response to AIDS; reflect on the role of faith-based organizations and faith leaders in calling for and implementing a strong Political Declaration on AIDS; and commit to the Political Declaration.

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Local Work by Faith-Based Groups Key to Ending AIDS. 27/6/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

Local work by faith-based groups key to ending AIDS

Faith-based health clinics provide vital services in many regions in the response to HIV. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/WCC-EAA

Getting more people tested and treated for HIV, caring for the sick, helping people understand how to care for themselves —these are the tasks of faith-based organizations (FBOs) helping people with HIV in local communities.

As the  21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016), to be held in Durban, South Africa, 18-22 July 2016, approaches, with its clarion call to “Access Equity Rights Now,” faith-based organizations (FBOs) such as the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) Health Desk and the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Programme continue their vital grassroots work.

Studies during the last decade have increasingly noted and acknowledged the growing role of FBOs in HIV/AIDS care and treatment in sub-Saharan Africa.

Continuing stigma and discrimination directed at people living with HIV and AIDs have made interventions, even by FBOs, difficult. Depending on the context, FBOs in Southern Africa have established strategic “pockets of services” in an effort to make health services and information accessible to communities. FBOs also partner with service providers already on the ground to enhance the quality of services rendered to communities.

“Stigma reduction has always been key in our work because our churches, from the onset, had to deal with this rampant scourge which delayed our meaningful response to the HIV virus. We are still playing catch-up, and stigma continues to thwart our efforts to deal effectively with the challenges,” said Pearl Moroasui, MCSA health desk coordinator. MCSA operates in Botswana, Swaziland, Mozambique, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa.

Sister Priscilla Rakhetsi, from the Catholic services, agreed. “Our projects struggle when it comes to testing for the HIV virus because most of our orphans and vulnerable children and their guardians are not willing to be tested because of the all-pervasive stigma at the heart of the communities we serve. Parents and guardians believe that if their children test positive then they too are positive. Tuberculosis is classified as one of the opportunistic infections with the highest incidents and people are quite happy to be screened and treated for TB because it does not carry as much stigma as HIV.”

The two FBOs partner with local clinics to test people, and when necessary, initiate anti-retro-viral treatment (ARV). Many times, community members are unwilling to go to nearby clinics because of the discrimination they suffer at municipal health facilities, where patients are separated according to ailments and those directed to the HIV room are treated disparagingly and contemptuously.

“Many of our clients claim that the nurses are not professional, are uncooperative and lack empathy. They often openly brand patients as ‘HIV positive,’ treat them abominably and discuss their patients’ status in their communities, openly violating the Hippocratic Oath around confidentiality,” Rakhetsi said.

Even before treatment, stigma plays a part because most people are scared of being seen going for testing.

Some churches have made it a policy to conduct counseling and testing at every gathering or conference, and the demand is growing, said Moroasui.

“Trained caregivers and counselors who are community-based have also proved to be a great resource when they conduct testing services either during community gatherings or when doing door-to-door testing, which helps bypass the risk of being exposed to stigma in public places,” said Moroasui.

Communities need test kits

Community-based church agencies need test kits to help encourage on-site testing and to support clinics that are overwhelmed with patients.

“We have had all the OVCs in our programme tested at local clinics, and those who are found to be positive we enroll at a clinic for treatment. If the clinic is far, we give the children transport money to go and collect ARVs monthly. It is incumbent upon the clinics to provide us with documentation so that we know who, amongst our children, needs support with adherence,” Rakhetsi said.

“Lack of adherence to medication is our biggest challenge. Over the last six months, four of our children died due to complications caused by defaulting on treatment.”

Moroasui, of the MCSA, is concerned that FBOs and their work are not taken seriously. “Health departments are missing out on good opportunities of partnerships by not taking FBOs —who are trusted institutions in most communities through their history in welfare services —seriously.

In southern Africa, most of the patient care is provided by volunteers, some of whom are HIV-positive themselves. There is little financial support given to the trained community-based caregivers, and some of them become demotivated and unwilling to provide a much-needed service.

Several adherence treatment clubs have been established around South Africa, but there has been very poor communication by the government to ensure full understanding by all stakeholders of the varying roles they should be playing.

Equipping FBOs to do their job

 

FBOs believe that there is a need to return to the model of training parish nurses who carry out testing and treatment.

Rakhetsi thinks this is critical, since most people do not have correct information. “We need more HIV prevention education that speaks to both children and their parents because most people have stopped taking it seriously, and there is too much half-baked information and misinformation that is being spread,” said Rakhetsi.

The treatment adherence clubs are vital for people who are stable in their treatment but cannot spend days on end in queues for medication. Clubs have established medication pick-up points managed by caregivers and nurses. Clients get weighed as well and the data are forwarded to the local clinic.

Nutrition support is another driver of treatment adherence. Most clients abandon their treatment when they find it difficult to take medicines on empty stomachs, which cause considerable stomach pain as the drugs are strong and potentially corrosive to the stomach lining. FBOs mobilize food parcels and supplements for those who need food. The only condition is that each household receiving a food parcel should start a vegetable garden within a specified period for further nutrition support, an approach that has produced positive results in adherence as well as self-support for households in poor communities.

The 21st International AIDS Conference will be held in Durban, South Africa, 18-22 July 2016. An Interfaith Pre-Conference, “Faith on the Fast Track: Reducing stigma and discrimination; increasing access; and defending human rights now!” will be held 16-17 July. An Ecumenical Media Team will be covering faith-based participation at the conference. For more information see www.iacfaith.orgor contact Sara Speicher at ssp@wcc-coe.org.

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Medicines Patent Pool, ViiV Healthcare Expand Licensing Agreement. 28/4/2016

Published by EAA

Medicines Patent Pool, ViiV Healthcare expand licensing agreement

Photo: Paul Jeffrey/WCC

The World Council of Churches – Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) welcomes the 25 April announcement by the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) and ViiV Healthcare of the geographic extension of their licensing agreement for dolutegravir (DTG) to cover all remaining lower middle-income countries (LMICs). 

 The amendment to the 2014 licence specifically allows generic medicine distribution in four countries with patents – Armenia, Moldova, Morocco and Ukraine – that were not covered in the initial agreement. Dolutegravir is a promising new treatment that was included in the latest WHO guidelines as first- and third-line treatment.

“With the expansion of this licence, ViiV has ensured that another 270,000 people living with HIV can benefit from a new and potentially cheap antiretroviral which has fewer side effects and is less likely to lead to resistance,” says Astrid Berner-Rodoreda, HIV Advisor for Bread for the World and member of the EAA HIV Strategy Group.

This licence enables sales to any country in which DTG is not patented (regardless of patent status in the country of manufacture). This means that a number of upper middle-income countries will also be able to benefit from the procurement of generic versions of DTG.  With this extension, the MPP-ViiV licence will now cover 94.2% of people living with HIV in LMICs. In addition, ViiV is the only company so far which has included the public sector of six upper middle-income countries in its original license with the MPP.

“We call on other companies to follow the example of ViiV to extend their licence agreements to all lower middle-income countries and include the public sector of upper middle-income countries,” says Francesca Merico, HIV campaign coordinator for the WCC-EAA.

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, an ecumenical initiative of the World Council of Churches, is a global network of churches and related organizations committed to campaigning together on common concerns for justice and human dignity. Current campaign issues are HIV and AIDS, food security and sustainable agriculture.

More information on the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance Live the Promise HIV Campaign

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Opportunity for Faith Community to Provide Input to the "Zero Draft"

The process of negotiating a new political declaration on HIV has progressed to the point were a “zero draft” has been published. 

Governments will now start to prepare their commitments and suggestions for the negotiation process. Individuals and civil society do not have “direct” voices in this process going ahead.

Faith communities are encouraged to advocate with their governments to ensure that the important points are included in the final document.

You can download the suggestions from the WCC- Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance on the zero draft below.

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Pope Francis Urges Continued Dialogue to Widen Access to Testing and Treatment Services. 27/5/2016

Published by UNAIDS

A meeting has been held at the Vatican to finalize a road map to improve access to HIV treatment for children. The meeting, held on 16 and 17 May, was a follow-up to an earlier meeting in April that explored ways to provide greater access to testing and treatment services for diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis. 

Both meetings were hosted by Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Participants included representatives of national governments, faith-based organizations and people living with HIV, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Luiz Loures and the United States Global AIDS Coordinator, Ambassador Deborah Birx.

The road map will be presented at the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS, to be held in New York, United States of America, from 8 to 10 June.

 

Quotes

“Scientific research has increased the possibilities for prevention and care; it has discovered therapies to treat a wide variety of diseases. You have also worked for this most worthy commitment: to respond to the needs and hopes of the sick throughout the world … Let the dialogue continue until we find the will, the technical expertise, the resources and the methods that provide access to diagnosis and treatment available to all, and not simply to a privileged few for … there is no human life that is qualitatively more significant than another.”

Pope Francis   

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Prayers Ring to “Open our Eyes and Lift Up our Heads” on AIDS Response. 9/6/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

You disgust me. “We value you despite our differences.

 Prayers ring to “open our eyes and lift up our heads” on AIDS response

I’m scared of you. “Let’s spend some time together. 

Your children cannot come to this school.“All of our children can play together.

Gathered in prayer and determined to overcome stigma and discrimination, participants in a 7 June interfaith service replaced words of rejection with words of acceptance.

The service, held at the United Nations (UN) Church Center in New York, preceded a UN High Level Meeting on AIDS on 8-10 June. The service was presented by the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

Rev. Dionne Boissiere, chaplain of the Church Center, said the group was gathered to advocate for the last, the least and the left out. “As sisters and brothers, we commit ourselves to compassion,” she said.

Prof. Dr Riffat Hassan, theologian and Islamic feminist scholar, recited a prayer in Arabic, then offered her blessing to the week’s events. “This is the beginning, the first step,” she acknowledged. “We have to go much further.”

Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie, founding director of Storahtelling Inc. and spiritual director of Lab/Shul, reflected on Leviticus 14:2. He invited the congregants to consider: who is the leper? “It’s not just a skin condition but a social situation,” he said, drawing a comparison to HIV and AIDS.

What does HIV and AIDS response require? “Today I want suggest that what we want to do is open our eyes and lift up our heads,” said Rev. Edwin Sanders, II, senior servant at the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tennesse (USA). “It is important that we see each other in ways that allow us to be able to discover what it means to be able to truly say we are one. We have to develop the capacity that does not exclude, dismiss, or discount anybody.”

Leaving nobody behind and ending stigma and discrimination were recurring themes of the service, during which people also lit candles to remember loved ones lost to AIDS. Praying in the Bahá'í tradition, Bani Dugal, principal Bahá'í representative to the UN, asked that “the perilous darkness of ignorant prejudice may vanish.”

Keeping a fresh perspective on ongoing work is key to renewing one’s passion in HIV and AIDS response, said Rev. Dr TK Nagaki, representing the Buddhist Council of New York. “The wisdom I share with you is, don’t forget to keep a beginner’s mind, pure and determined,” he said.

A recurring theme in prayer was that all humans are equal before God. Monsignor Robert Vitillo, permanent observer, Mission of the Holy See to the UN, prayed that those responding to HIV and AIDS would remember to put the human person at the center of all plans and strategies. “Remind us of the life and dignity from conception to natural death that you have gifted to all of us,” he said.

Related links:

Photos from the Interfaith prayer on the eve of UN High Level Meeting on AIDS, 2016

Raw video footage of interfaith prayer at HLM 2016 AIDS

Faith community issues call to action: end AIDS by 2030 

More information on the High Level Meeting on AIDS and WCC-EAA talking points

 

More information on the Live the Promise HIV Campaign

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Religious Community Still Struggling with the Gospel of HIV. 17/7/2016

Published by 

edwin-sanders-freddie-allen-520x346

Rev. Edwin Sanders talks about the importance of the Black church fighting the AIDS epidemic at a pre-conference on faith at AIDS 2016. Photo: Freddie Allen

DURBAN, South Africa – Rev. Edwin C. Sanders, II, sized up his audience at the 21st International AIDS Conference here and uttered instructions one wouldn't normally expect to hear from a minister.

"Turn to your neighbor and say, 'Sex,'" he said, catching delegates to the conference off guard. But after a couple of seconds of nervous hesitation, they complied.

"Now say, 'Good sex.'"

"And lots of it."

There was laughter after each instruction, which Sanders interpreted as discomfort. He said the discomfort of discussing that three-letter word—sex—hampers the religious community from more actively addressing the global HIV crisis.

Sanders, senior servant at Metropolitan International Church in Nashville, Tenn., has been at the forefront of trying to persuade the faith community to take the lead in combatting HIV.

In an interview, Sanders said his brief exercise at the conference shows how uncomfortable people are discussing sex.

"It makes you realize how uncomfortable people are," he explained. "Sex, for us, has been framed in such a negative fashion. It's the no-no. It's the wild thang. It's nasty. Understand it's a gift—it's a gift from God."

To prove his point, Sanders pointed to the Bible.

"In the Bible, the best evidence of that is the old covenant God makes with Abraham," he said. "After all, He says, 'I will give you descendants that will number more than the sand by the sea and the stars in the sky.' That's a lot of sex. You don't get descendants without procreation."

He understands that people more are accustomed to getting their sexual advice from Dr. Phil than from the minister they see in church every Sunday.

"People are not used to hearing the language of sexuality in church," Sanders said. "But you cannot talk about the Bible and not talk about sexuality." Duane Crumb, director of HIV Hope International, told one session that

for all of its talk about forgiveness of acceptance, the church can be one of the least accepting places for people with HIV or AIDS.

Many see the Black church as having a special responsibility, given the disproportionate impact HIV/AIDS has on African Americans.

Although African Americans represent only 12 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for 44 percent of new HIV infections and 44 percent of people living with HIV in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are some who view HIV as punishment for disobeying what they perceive as God's instructions. They point to Leviticus 18:22: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." and Leviticus 20:13: "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."

But others view that as a selective reading of the Bible.

For example, upworthy.com observes, "Yep. We've all heard that Leviticus is where the Bible straight-up says that homosexual behavior is an abomination. And yes, it does. It also says that homosexuals should receive the death penalty (!!!). It also says the same thing about eating pork or shellfish, charging interest on loans, and a whole bunch of other restrictions that were a part of the Old Testament Law Code. But for Christians, the Old Testament doesn't (dare I say "shouldn't?") settle any issue because Romans 10:4 says that Christ is the end of the law. Which is probably why most Christians today eat meat, use credit cards, wear makeup, and support equality for women. Because, as Hebrews 8:13 says, the old law is obsolete and aging."

Dueling interpretations of the Bible notwithstanding, there is no question that African Americans are extremely religious.

A Pew Foundation study found, "African-Americans stand out as the most religiously committed racial or ethnic group in the nation." It explained, "...nearly eight-in-ten African-Americans (79%) say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56% among all U.S. adults. In fact, even a large majority (72%) of African-Americans who are unaffiliated with any particular faith say religion plays at least a somewhat important role in their lives; nearly half (45%) of unaffiliated African-Americans say religion is very important in their lives, roughly three times the percentage who says this among the religiously unaffiliated population overall (16%)."

There are some signs that the Black church is becoming more involved. For example, the NAACP declared July 17 as the Day of Unity whereby pastors across the U.S. preached on HIV as a social justice issue.

Jesse Milan, Jr., interim president and CEO of AIDS United and a former board chair of the Black AIDS Institute, said the Black church could do more. He said the church is very good about praying for and laying hands on members diagnosed with diabetes or cardiovascular disease, but has exemplified an unwillingness to show similar expression of support for those with HIV or AIDS.

In a conversation with Rev. Sanders at a Black AIDS Institute forum here, Milan said: "If we don't actually blurt out those words when we're doing that call, whether it's an altar call or prayer, we're not actually doing everything we can."

To do everything it can, Sanders said, the church must not remain stuck in the Old Testament teachings.

"In our churches, we probably have been more conservative, in many instances, in the way in which we have approached social issues," he stated. "We have not been as effective in translating First Century text into 21st Century realities. What often gets in the way of being able to move forward around complex issues is that we are still grounded in traditions that are past and gone."

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Religious Leaders Call for Effective Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS. 5/04/2016

Published on WCC

Religious leaders and faith-based organizations are sending representatives this week to a United Nations civil society hearing in New York City, a prelude to a UN High Level Meeting on HIV in New York on 8-10 June. 

Through the Live the Promise HIV Campaign, the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA), in consultation with WCC Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy, WCC-EAA participating organizations and other partners, is supporting religious leaders as they meet with their government representatives to help draft a new Political Declaration.

Many are advocating for a declaration that will guarantee zero new HIV infections in babies; zero deaths among children and adults; and zero stigma and discrimination by the year 2030.

WCC is calling for the Political Declaration to:

Address the root causes of vulnerability to HIV. A global response to HIV should place the leadership of people living with and most affected by HIV at the centre of the global response.

Achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. No one should be left behind in achieving the “Fast Track” targets: 95% of people living with HIV knowing their status; 95% of people who know their status on treatment; and 95% of people on treatment with suppressed viral load; with fewer than 200 000 people newly infected with HIV; fewer than 200,000 people dying from AIDS-related causes; and elimination of HIV-related stigma and discrimination.

Eliminate stigma and discrimination. The declaration should commit to eliminating HIV-related stigma and discrimination among service providers in healthcare, workplace and educational settings, including through trainings and evidence-based effective interventions.

Ensure an independent accountability mechanism to monitor the implementation of the Political Declaration. The declaration should commit to a clear accountability mechanism that builds on previous monitoring systems.

Countdown to High Level Meeting

Religious leaders and faith-based organizations are also taking part in a 100-day “countdown” to the High Level Meeting. Photos featured on the UNAIDS website depict people from around the world holding daily messages about what ending AIDS means to them.

“It is crucial that our collective voice as religious leaders and faith-based organizations is a voice that carries both clarity and hope,” says Francesca Merico, HIV campaign coordinator for the WCC-EAA. “As we all count down to the High Level Meeting, our pilgrimage for justice and peace will be present in our messages, our photos and our prayers.”

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, an ecumenical initiative of the World Council of Churches, is a global network of churches and related organizations committed to campaigning together on common concerns for justice and human dignity. Current campaign issues are HIV and AIDS, food security and sustainable agriculture.

The Live the Promise Campaign of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance seeks continued priority on the response to HIV and AIDS, the elimination of stigma, and a significant faith-based contribution to the vision of ‘getting to zero’ – zero new infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths.

More information on the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance Live the Promise HIV Campaign

Human rights standards must guide response to HIV, WCC urges (WCC press release of 11 March 2016)

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Statement of the H.E Archbishop Bernardito Auza Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, Head of the Holy See Delegation to the High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS. 10/6/2016

Published by HOLYSEEMISSION

Mr. President,

After years of shocking narratives on the loss of health and life among men, women and children living with HIV, my delegation is pleased with the progress detailed in the Secretary General’s Report “On the Fast-Track to End the AIDS Epidemic.” It is indeed heartening to set strategic goals and benchmarks with a view to ending this disease, and to do so within the more comprehensive framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

My delegation, however, urges the international community to pay equal attention to the cautionary note raised in the same Report, namely, that “AIDS is far from over […] despite remarkable progress,” and “if we accept the status quo unchanged, the epidemic will rebound in several low- and middle-income countries.”

In this regard, Catholic-inspired organizations often report the persistent obstacles posed by lack of access to early diagnosis and treatment; by lack of appropriate, affordable, and accessible “child-friendly” formulations and dosages of medications for pediatric use; by changes in funding priorities imposed by donor governments and agencies resulting in disruptions of services for those who do not live in the so-called HIV “hot spots”; by frequent stock-outs of medicines and diagnostic equipment and supplies; by interruptions of treatment, especially of women and young people who are subjected to stigma, discrimination and physical and emotional abuse as a result of their HIV status.

While global goals and targets will be essentially moving forward, they must be anchored in reality, integrating the very real concerns that respective countries have in considering the holistic well-being of their people. Discrimination and stigmatization can never be an excuse to exclude or leave anyone behind. Every effort must be made to distinguish between policies that discriminate and stigmatize and those that are put in place to discourage risk-taking behaviors and encourage responsible and healthy relationships, especially among youth. While access to prevention, treatment and health care services must be guaranteed to all, they will never be enough by themselves to end HIV transmission and AIDS . We must continue to address their root causes and promote healthy lifestyles.

Mr. President,

The obstacles to eradicating the spread of HIV/AIDS give ample evidence of the fact that in different parts of the world, especially in many regions of Africa, health care is still a privilege of the few who can afford it. As Pope Francis has said, access to health care, treatment, and medicines remains a dream for too many. Health-related issues, such as HIV/AIDS and related infections, require urgent political attention, above and beyond all other commercial or political interests. The international community must find the will, the technical expertise, the resources and the methods that provide access to diagnosis and treatment for all, and not simply for a privileged few, for “there is no human life that is more sacred than another, as there is no human life that is qualitatively more significant than another.”

Presently, as many as fifty percent of HIV-positive children die before their second birthday, because they do not have access to the necessary diagnosis, treatment and medication. In fact, the majority of HIV-positive children are not diagnosed until they are four years of age.

Taking up these concerns, the Holy See recently convened two meetings in the Vatican with the executive-level leaders of companies that manufacture pharmaceuticals and diagnostic equipment, in order to plan a timelier and more appropriate response to children living with HIV and tuberculosis. These business leaders, together with representatives of specialized multilateral organizations, governments, religious and other non-governmental organizations, agreed that providing affordable, appropriate, and accessible HIV medicines and diagnostic tools for pediatric use everywhere is an urgent global goal, thus committing themselves to overcoming the obstacles and accelerating access to diagnosis, treatment and medication for children living with HIV/AIDS.

The Holy See and all the institutions of the Catholic Church are motivated more than ever to consider the plight of children living with HIV. Together let us muster the will, continue to sharpen the technical expertise already available and find the resources necessary to provide access to diagnosis, care and treatment, not only for a privileged few, but for all.

Thank you, Mr. President.

 

Pope Francis, Address to the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, Vatican, 20 September 2013.

 

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Sunday School Teachers, Chaplains In West Africa Attend Workshop On HIV Prevention. 04/03/2016

Published at Oikoumene

3 March 2016


Preventing HIV, particularly among adolescents and youth, was the focus of a two-day meeting for 25 Sunday school teachers and chaplains from the Methodist Church of Togo, Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Togo, Assemblies of God, Baptist Convention and Pentecostal Church.

The meeting, held 24-26 February in Lomé, Togo, was organized by the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA) West Africa regional office.

With a theme of  “New strategies of prevention and HIV,” the workshop aimed to raise awareness of new preventive methods, particularly for adolescents and youth. Over two days, teachers and chaplains reflected on how they can holistically reach out to children to ensure they have all needed information during adolescence to be able to make positive choices.

Participants discussed various themes such as HIV prevention in schools and its challenges; sexuality, violence and HIV infection in juvenile environment; and roles of Sunday school teachers and chaplains in HIV response. The workshop intended to provide in-depth knowledge and raised challenges faced by those reaching out to teens, as statistics show that adolescents are now the most affected by HIV.

Education of young girls continues to be a challenge as the rate of early pregnancies in primary and secondary schools is very high. In Togo, not only are teens being infected but also many early pregnancies are being recorded. Statistics from press reports in 2013 indicate that only 29% of girls reach secondary schools while 72% of boys continued their schooling. In the six regions in Togo, between 2010 and 2012, out of 5,443 pregnancies, 230 were recorded from primary schools. Sunday school teachers and chaplains reflected on these statistics and how they underscore the importance of their roles in helping adolescents and young people protect themselves.

Among the many questions during the workshop, a major one was: “Is the family still a safe space for the young girl, as it seems the family has failed in its role of prime educator of the girl regarding her sexual and reproductive health?”

Chaplains and Sunday school teachers should aim to help adolescents and youth respond appropriately to their challenges.

Chaplains are more and more marginalized, while they are meant to be an epicenter where adolescents and young people from churches find solace, observed participants.

Chaplains were identified as key helpers for young people who are going through stress and learning about appropriate attitudes. Chaplains should be considered as key to helping churches develop strategies and solutions, said participants.

“If, as Sunday school teachers and chaplains, we are able to save one child, it is a whole population that is saved,” said Rev. Etienne Amedodji, a chaplain from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Togo.

Contextual Bible study helped participants create a safe space to discuss adolescents and youths in a situation of violence. In the Bible, the case of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13:1-22 was juxtaposed against the experience of Zouhoura, a young girl from Chad who was raped on the 13 February by a gang of five young boys. This created a rich debate on measures to prevent such violence in the society and the church.

The workshop ended on a positive note with leaders committed to take action in churches and schools — both public and private — to raise the alarm on the importance of comprehensive education about sex, violence and HIV.

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The Role of the PC(USA) in Ending the AIDS Crisis. 3/6/2016

Published by JUSTICEUNBOUND

 

Author Dr. David BarstowThe HIV and AIDS epidemic is now more than three decades old. Almost 35 million people have died from AIDS-related causes. Fortunately, at a critical juncture fifteen years ago, the world responded to the crisis. Without that response, the toll would have been much worse. Because of that response, fifteen million people are now receiving life-preserving medication.

The PC(USA) was part of that global response, through the creation of a special World Mission office dedicated to AIDS-related activities, through the Presbyterian AIDS Network, and through the approval, by the 219th General Assembly (2010), of a policy statement designed to assist the PC(USA) in becoming an HIV and AIDS competent church. This concept was explored more fully by the World Council of Churches in the 2008 Ecumenical HIV & AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA) handbook, Beacons of Hope: HIV Competent Churches – A Framework for Action.

The epidemic is now at another critical juncture. It is vital that the world respond again and that PC(USA) again be part of the response. Thanks to advances in science and medicine, we have the knowledge to end HIV and AIDS as public health threats by 2030. However, if we do not take full advantage of that knowledge, the disease will come roaring back in the 2020s, reaching infection and death rates reminiscent of the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

___________________________________________ 

If we act now, we can prevent 28 million people from becoming needlessly infected with HIV.
___________________________________________

HIVAIDS Pic 1These two different futures are described in a recent epidemiological study by UNAIDS and The Lancet, a leading medical journal. The key results of the study are illustrated in the slide to the left. The chart shows the number of new HIV infections per year, looking back to 2010 and ahead to the year 2030. The blue area shows what will happen if we in the global community fully apply the knowledge at our disposal: the number of new infections will decline from about two million per year currently to about two hundred thousand per year by 2030. The red area shows what will happen if we don’t fully apply our knowledge: the number of new infections will start to rise again, reaching 2.5 million by 2030.

The difference between these two futures is 28 million people. If we act now, we can prevent 28 million people from becoming needlessly infected with HIV.

___________________________________________ 

There are about seventeen million people living with HIV who are not receiving therapy, many of whom are in groups that are marginalized by society.
___________________________________________

The epidemiological study also showed that we have a critical window of opportunity in the next five years. If the world makes the right global commitments now – and follows through with the right actions between now and 2020 – then we will indeed be on the path toward finally ending AIDS as a public health threat.

HIV testing tent during a worship service at a Presbyterian church in South Africa.

HIV testing tent during a worship service at a Presbyterian church in South Africa.

What role can the PC(USA) play in the global response at this critical juncture? What can we do during the next five years? I believe it comes down to two things:

  • Be a voice of advocacy and moral urgency on the global stage
  • Provide help and support to local church leaders who are fighting stigma
  • HIV testing tent during a worship service at a Presbyterian church in South Africa.

The agenda for the global response during this window of opportunity will largely be established at the High Level Meeting on AIDS, to be held at the United Nations from June 8 through June 10. The PC(USA) has been working with other faith-based groups in the process leading up to this meeting to emphasize the moral urgency of acting now and to advocate for sufficient resources to take full advantage of the scientific and medical advances. It will be important for the PC(USA) to continue to be a voice of advocacy to help ensure that the right actions follow the commitments made at the United Nations.

___________________________________________

The most important thing for faith communities to do is to reach out to the marginalized with messages of inclusion, to ensure that they can be tested and treated without fear.
___________________________________________

However, the second role of the PC(USA) listed above is perhaps even more important. Social issues, including stigma and discrimination, are important drivers of the epidemic. There are about seventeen million people living with HIV who are not receiving therapy, many of whom are in groups that are marginalized by society. These people are afraid of the social reaction if they get tested and if they begin treatment; they are afraid of what their neighbors will say or what their employers or other authorities will do.

Morning devotional at a stigma training session for Presbyterian leaders. Photo: David Barstow

Morning devotional at a stigma training session for Presbyterian leaders.

http://justiceunbound.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/HIV-Morning-Devotio...

Faith leaders have the social influence to change this situation. The authors of the UNAIDS-Lancet report have said that the most important thing for faith communities to do is to reach out to the marginalized with messages of inclusion, to ensure that they can be tested and treated without fear.

This is where the PC(USA) can, and must, help. Our partner denominations are the on-the-ground troops in the battle against the stigma of HIV and AIDS around the world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, and they need our support. It is a hard battle, but it can be won. I have spent much of the last decade working with local pastors in southern Africa, and I have seen the transformations these faith leaders can bring about: stigma disappears and their congregations become places of hope for people living with HIV. With support from the PC(USA) there can be many more places of hope, and perhaps at last the paralyzing grip of stigma will be defeated.

As we know from Luke 4:16-21, Christ came for marginalized:

[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Candlelight service in memory of those lost to AIDS.

Candlelight service in memory of those lost to AIDS.

http://justiceunbound.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/HIV-Candlelight-ser...

 

Christ’s earthly mission was devoted to the poor, the sick, the outcasts. Following his lead, and recognizing the moral urgency of taking action, the PC(USA) must do its part in the global response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic at this critical juncture. We must act with a particular emphasis on advocacy, stigma reduction, and support for our partner denominations. The intent of Overture 11-07, submitted for consideration by the 222nd General Assembly in Portland, is to ensure that PC(USA) does exactly that.

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Update on Faith Involvements at the United Nations High Level Meeting on AIDS. 27/04/2016

Published at EAA

07 April 2016

A UN High-Level Meeting on AIDS (HLM) will be held 8-10 June at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Through the HLM, the international community can demonstrate commitment to accelerating the HIV response with the goal of ending the AIDS epidemic.

Concerted advocacy by people of faith is a vital part of efforts to encourage governments to develop and adopt a Political Declaration with new and bold commitments – matched by funding commitments – to scale up prevention, treatment, care and support, eliminate stigma and discrimination, uphold human rights, and ensure the engagement of communities most affected.

Timeline to the High Level Meeting 

6 April: Civil Society Hearing, New York. See the agenda and speakers.

19 April: Zero Draft of Political Declaration released. From this point, civil society can advocate with governments for specific modifications or additions in the Declaration draft.

29 April: UN Secretary General issues report on progress in addressing HIV for the HLM

8-10 June: Final negotiations on the Political Declaration may continue. There will also be five thematic panels and a number of side events, including an Interfaith Breakfast being organized by the WCC-EAA and New York office. Pre-registration to attend was required, and closed in February.

What you can do

The WCC-EAA and its participating organizations have been active at international levels to ensure key elements and targets – especially addressing treatment, stigma, and investment in the HIV response – are included in the Political Declaration. Strong advocacy at national and international levels must continue, and we can all be involved.

1. Use the talking points prepared by the WCC-EAA in letters and visits to your government representatives and ministers, urging that your government support their inclusion in the Political Declaration.

2. Write letters to the editor or blogs, and use social media to raise public and media awareness of the High Level Meeting and the issues at stake.

3. Join the “countdown” to the High Level Meeting by sharing the key messages on ending AIDS posted by UNAIDS. Follow the countdown on Twitter (#HLM2016AIDS).

For more information:

WCC-EAA letter to UN Secretary General on his report and the zero draft of the political declaration (25 April)

WCC-EAA inputs to the Zero Draft of the HLM Political Declaration (21 April)

WCC-EAA intervention atthe Human Rights Council: Panel Session on Human Rights and HIV: Ending the AIDS epidemic, leaving no one behind!

Press release on faith-based response to the Civil Society Hearing, 6 April.

UNAIDS on the High Level Meeting.

Civil Society priorities and advocacy towards the High Level Meeting

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Vatican Meetings Urge Accelerated Access to HIV Testing and Treatment for Children. 19/4/2016

Published from UNAIDS

Caritas Internationalis recently brought together global partners in two events to discuss the role of faith-based organizations and the private sector in closing the global HIV testing and treatment gap for children living with HIV. The meetings, held in the Vatican City from 11 to 15 April, were co-organized with UNAIDS, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Vatican’s Bambino Gesù paediatric hospital.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, hosted and opened a high-level meeting with representatives of the private sector, including pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies, faith-based organizations responding to HIV, people living with HIV, national governments, the United Nations and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

In his opening remarks to the meeting, the Cardinal drew from Pope Francis’ pastoral letter to the world (the encyclical Laudato si’). In the letter, the Pope challenges the world to take renewed and coordinated action against factors that result in the deterioration of the natural and social environment, such as climate change, pandemics, poverty, conflict and violence.

In a separate statement, Pope Francis specifically called on the meeting participants to find “new possibilities of providing greater access to life-saving diagnosis and treatment” for children. At the end of the meeting, the participants committed themselves to find collective solutions, such as multipartner agreements to encourage more research on HIV treatment for children, to accelerate the process of testing, approving and registering new HIV medicines for children, to find innovative solutions to prevent medicine and supply stock-outs and to strengthen health system. The participants agreed to reconvene in order to finalize a road map to improve access to HIV treatment for all.

In a separate three-day consultation on paediatric HIV, the participants debated and agreed upon the most urgent actions needed to strengthen equitable access to testing and treatment for children living with HIV. That event was attended by more than 80 participants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, but also from countries as far afield as Armenia, Colombia, India and Viet Nam, as well as representatives of national and multilateral agencies.

Deborah Birx, PEPFAR Global AIDS Coordinator, and Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS, presented to the consultation an overview of the state of the HIV epidemic among children and the global response to date. Discussions focused on the current challenges in reaching children with HIV testing and treatment.

In order to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, it was agreed that there is an urgent need to Fast-Track access to HIV testing, prevention and care services and treatment for all. Attention was given to the central role played by faith-based organizations in the delivery of community-based HIV and other health services to children and their extended families. Such organizations can often reach the populations that are in greatest need but that have the poorest access to HIV services.

Caritas Internationalis will present the recommendations of the three-day consultation to the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS, to be held in New York, United States of America, from 8 to 10 June.

Quotes

“Let it (the dialogue) continue until we find the will, the technical expertise, the resources and the methods that provide access to diagnosis and treatment available to all, and not simply to a privileged few for … there is no human life that is qualitatively more significant than another.”

Pope Franciscus, statement of 14 April 2016 for the meeting entitled “The encyclical letter Laudato si’ and other teachings of Pope Francis: an ethical basis for efforts to Fast-Track a more effective Global AIDS response”

“Despite tremendous global progress, many challenge remain, particularly in low- and middle- income countries, but also among poor and marginalized populations in high-income countries. Babies are still being born with HIV, adults and children cannot access the second- and third-line HIV medicines they need, and health infrastructure often lacks basic services, such as water and electricity. We must all be part of the story and part of the solution to delivering accessible, affordable care for our vulnerable brothers and sisters.”

Cardinal Peter Turkson, President, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Holy See

“Faith-based organizations were there long before the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. They have much to teach us as they are at the forefront of innovative and alternative service delivery models.”

Deborah Birx, United States Global AIDS Coordinator

“Faith-based organizations have led the way in reducing new infections among children, and are now leading the way to ensure that all children with HIV receive treatment.”

Mark Dybul, Executive Director, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria

“Science has gone far, but we have not yet been able to link all people to the latest advances. Success without equity is not success. Faith-based organizations can provide the link between people and science, and ensure that services are delivered equitably to all.”

Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director, UNAIDS

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Vigil Remembers 35 Million who Died from AIDS. 11/5/2016

Published on OMC.org

aids-vigil-gc-487x388.jpg

 

Photo by Maile Bradfield, UMNS

Bishop Albert Mutti and his wife, Etta Mae Mutti, observe a moment of silence during an AIDS Vigil held May 11 at the United Methodist 2016 General Conference in Portland, Ore. The Vigil was sponsored by the UMC Global AIDS Fund Committee. 

In a response of love and prayer, the 35 million people who have died of AIDS were remembered in a vigil outside the Oregon Convention Center as the 2016 General Conference meets to decide church law for the next four years.

“We live in a world with 38 million people who are living with AIDS and 35 million who have died,” said retired Bishop Albert Frederick Mutti. “Too much of the world ignores this pandemic.”

Mutti and his wife Etta Mae served as coordinators of the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. They have been active in promoting the fund since the 2004 United Methodist General Conference approved it.

They wrote a book, "Dancing in a Wheelchair," after two of their three sons died of AIDS.

“We are determined to work together to promote the dignity, equality and rights of all people; discuss openly and accurately the basic facts about HIV and AIDS and about all the means of prevention,” Etta Mae read from an adaptation of “Religious Readers’ Commitment towards HIV/AIDS Issues” presented during the 15th International AIDS Conference in Bangkok in 2004.

According to UNAIDS estimates, 2.2 million children live with HIV, and the disease remains a threat to people of all ages and nationalities.

AIDS is not over

“AIDS is Not Over! ... Global Issues and the Church” was a daylong workshop featuring United Methodist leaders and laity from around the world, an AIDS scientist and people living with HIV/AIDS. Rose City Park United Methodist Church hosted the event, one day before the denomination’s 2016 General Conference.

“I think the theme of this event says it all: AIDS is not over yet,” said the Rev. Don Messer, who has worked to raise funds for AIDS since the 2004 United Methodist General Conference approved the Global Aids Fund. The church at that time committed to raise $3 million through apportionments and match it with an additional $5 million through Advance gifts.

The fund has raised more than $3.5 million as of today, and the money has gone to 284 projects in 44 countries, he said.

The United Methodist Global AIDS Fund Committee sponsored the vigil.

Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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WCC Central Committee Decries Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Migrants. 28/6/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

Saying that “human trafficking and migrant smuggling constitute modern-day slavery,” the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) “urges its member churches to join this challenge, and inspired by the Gospel, to contribute to the awareness and prevention of human trafficking and migrant smuggling in each of our areas of mission.”

 

Trafficking is “a global phenomenon,” the committee noted, though precise statistics are difficult to obtain. Yet the reality is clear: “This commodification means that people are abused and deprived of their liberty. They suffer daily sexual exploitation, labour exploitation, organ trafficking, and the sale of their children,” the governing body noted, urging member churches also to partner with other civil society organizations and governments to combat trafficking.

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WCC Pastoral Letter Calls for Recommitment to Tackling HIV and AIDS. 8/7/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

Despite huge progress since AIDS was first identified 35 years ago, the threat of AIDS still haunts much of the world. 21 million people currently have no access to treatment of HIV, and AIDS-related illnesses are now the leading cause of death for adolescents in Africa. More than 2 million people are newly infected annually. The world is facing the catastrophe of 6 million AIDS-related orphans, and this figure is growing.

These shocking statistics are part of the reason why, at its Central Committee meeting in Trondheim, Norway at the end of June, the World Council of Churches (WCC) reaffirmed its commitment to eliminating AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

Nyambura Njoroge, Presbyterian minister and WCC’s Programme Executive of the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy says the reaffirmation is vital because churches “continue to bury people from their congregations. We need to ensure that people in the pew have access to this pastoral letter so they feel part of the Christian community. For those living with HIV, we are continuing to commit ourselves to accompanying them.”

Indeed, since 1984, the WCC has been among the vanguard of those responding to HIV in both compassionate care and advocacy against the root causes of vulnerability to infection. Among many other ground-breaking initiatives, in 1996, the WCC reminded churches to recognize the link between AIDS and poverty. It exhorted faith-based communities to advocate that antiretroviral treatments be made accessible to all. It has forced those tackling the disease to address stigma and discrimination, while encouraging accountability of governments and churches. WCC further advocates universal access to treatment and helps overcome political and legal barriers that deny rights for people living with HIV, while promoting sustainable resourcing.

Njoroge is therefore encouraged that so much progress has already been made. She urges “all Christians to remember how much we have prayed. Sometimes we forget how far we have come, and how many of our prayers have been answered.”

As a result of huge global activism across all sectors, almost 16 million people are on treatment today. But more still needs to be done.

“It’s very serious now because new infections are amongst adolescents. Many HIV-negative people are vulnerable,” she says. “Some mothers unintentionally pass on the virus to the new-born babies. It is especially difficult for a mother to wake up and know she has passed on HIV. It involves guilt, shame even trauma.”

The pastoral letter calls on church leaders to lead by example, provide for those in need and to use the churches’ prophetic voice. As Njoroge says: “If you are a leader in church it is good for you to be tested, because religious figures are still held in very high regard in many communities. When a church leader talks about HIV it gives the congregation permission to speak about taboo subjects. There is a segment of the Christian community that still believes that HIV is a punishment from God for sexual immorality. People who are stuck still see it as a moral issue.”

She also urges people to “see the connection between a violent environment, especially sexual and gender based violence, and HIV. Violent contexts are one of the major drivers of the pandemic, or they hinder its treatment.”

This is a point echoed by Dr Manoj Kurian, the coordinator of the WCC’s Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, whose “Live the Promise” campaign coordinates   church-based international advocacy on HIV.  “HIV and AIDS,” he says, “alerts us to a particular condition that is much more than medical but is a social condition that reveals the vulnerabilities that we experience as human beings and societies. It’s a symptom of many deeper issues, which we need to continue to address whatever the situation.”

Moreover, he – perhaps controversially – sees the current economic climate not so much as a hindrance but a challenge. “It’s times of crisis that bring us to work together and do much better. Resources are a challenge, but only a challenge. Having fewer resources is not an excuse, but an opportunity to ask ourselves difficult questions and to continue to invest in our societies to ensure that we can overcome HIV.

“These issues of poverty and disease remind us why we are here and do what we do. It reminds us that it is our business to be on the side of those who are at the margins of society. Jesus is challenging us today.”

 

* Robert Bartram is a communications specialist with 20 years’ experience drawn from a range of governmental, inter-governmental and media organizations, based in Geneva.

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WCC Video Calls for Strong Action to End AIDS Epidemic. 24/5/2016

Published by WCC

WCC video calls for strong action to end AIDS epidemic

Watch video here:

“Leave no one behind.” That’s the urgent message of the World Council of Churches’ general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit  in a video released in preparation for a United Nations (UN) High Level Meeting on AIDS in New York, 8-10 June. 

The WCC video is designed to encourage faith leaders to be outspoken and committed in the HIV response. Tveit calls on faith and government leaders to commit to a strong UN political declaration and take action to make it a reality..

The WCC Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) has been communicating with WCC member churches and other organizations worldwide to outline key actions world governments must take in order to end AIDS by 2030. The WCC-EAA is advocating for government partnerships with faith-based and civil society organizations, ending stigma and discrimination, eliminating punitive laws and practices, funding, patent agreements related to treatment, the need for a new research-and-development framework, and other policies that will indicate a strong commitment from political leaders to end AIDS.

“As people of faith, we are all the more conscious that conflicts, inequalities and injustices prevent people everywhere from reaching their full potential, crush families and communities, and stop countries from achieving peace and economic prosperity,” states Tveit in the video. “Over the last four decades, the AIDS epidemic has thrown a glaring spotlight on these injustices that run through all of our societies.”

While there have been huge medical advances in HIV prevention and treatment, medical solutions alone are clearly not enough, he adds. “We have a crucial opportunity now, and it is in our power to take it. We want nothing less than to end the AIDS epidemic and leave no one behind.”

The WCC-EAA has stated that a new political declaration must support the leadership of people living with and most affected by HIV in the response; uphold human rights; ensure treatment for all, including children; integrate HIV with other health and development initiatives; and strengthen partnerships with faith-based and other civil society organizations to understand and address the barriers and injustices that contribute to the spread of HIV, including stigma, discrimination and gender inequality.

“And for all of this, we need predictable and sustainable funding that is sufficient to reach our ambitious targets,” states Tveit.

Just as AIDS cannot be resolved medically, the epidemic will not be ended only politically or economically, he added. “All of us, as individuals and as communities, must be committed to ending AIDS by 2030.”

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WHO Looks to Non-State Players, Including Faith and Church Groups, in the Future. 2/6/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

WHO looks to non-state players, including faith and church groups, in the future

Karen Sichinga during the panel held in Geneva on 25 May.

The agreement was announced on 28 May, the last day of the WHA, which engaged a variety of church and faith-based organizations among many non-state actors during its week of meetings in Geneva as it grappled with the new arrangement.

“The framework on engagement with non-state actors was arguably the most difficult item to negotiate,” WHO director general, Dr Margaret Chan said in her closing remarks, referring to the effort in reaching a consensus between state actors, corporate interests and non-governmental organizations.

Members of the United Nations, international groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) came together at a panel discussion entitled “Global Public Health: The future role of faith-based organizations” held 25 May in the Ecumenical Centre at the World Council of Churches (WCC).

WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said, “It is not a discussion of whether faith-based organizations belong to big discourse, but it is one of how shall we do it, and how shall we do it in a decent way.”

Tveit said in seeking a holistic solution to medical health, use can be made of the “commitment, capacity and networks” along with the “real faith, faith in God and faith in the gifts God has given to the church to participate” in the “healing of the world and bringing just communities together.”

During the meeting, representatives of UN groups and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said it was easier to deal with representative groups such as the WCC and ACHAP (African Christian Health Associations Platform).

“It is clear that therefore our national governments cannot work alone. They will require strong partnerships and from non-state actors such as Christian health associations,” said Karen Sichinga, ACHAP chairperson noting, “it is estimated that 20 to 60 percent of health care in sub-Saharan Africa is provided by FBOs mainly from the Christian faith.”

Sichinga said the future role of FBOs cannot be underestimated as non-state players are engaged in health services.

“Governments need to transform the way they operate and need to be more cognizant of the role of our association or FBOs. FBOs’ unique role has to be strengthened by national governments and by our international community.

“We have been relied upon by our national government to deliver services at low cost, high efficiency and reduced bureaucracy. We bring to the table value for money serving poor and vulnerable communities for more than 100 years. We have to ensure they are not left out.”

Dr Sam Mwenda, general secretary of the Christian Health Association of Kenya (CHAK) and vice chair of ACHAP said, “FBOs’ engagement with health is a long-term commitment. Even in times of conflict in our nations we continue being there working through our extensive networks.

“We provide a wide range of health services and with compassion to those who are really disadvantaged. We have a lot of investment in infrastructure at parish, national and global levels.”

Mwenda said Christian health associations embrace partnerships and in Kenya they are training doctors and nurses and are responsible for about 40 percent of medical services in the country.

The moderator of the panel, Dr Manoj Kurian, coordinator of the WCC’s Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) noted that the transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) has shown an unfinished agenda in global public health.

Speakers from Europe, Africa and Asia looked at the transformation from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals in which medical services are clearly mapped out.

Dr Cherian Varghese, coordinator for the management of Non Communicable Diseases for the WHO from India noted that civil society along with FBOs are powerful in the medical health services sector.

“At the national level, FBOs can be role models, helping churches to promote good health in their work as providers of health care and with their community participation can influence health literacy,” said Varghese.

“In the international context, the WCC is engaged in global advocacy for highlighting health needs as it participates in global dialogue and policy making.”

Dr Mwai Makoka, executive director of the Christian Health Association of Malawi said that church health groups represent a structure complementary to governments for service delivery.

“They have the same goals but different mandates. The one is constitutional while the other is biblical,” said Makoka.

He noted that medical institutions run by FBOs “are resilient, especially where governments are weak or nonexistent, and in emergencies and epidemics,” while citing the combatting of HIV and AIDS and Ebola.

Dr Bimal Charles, general secretary of the Christian Medical Association of India (CMAI) explained how this group punches above its weight in its operations in many of the Indian states, serving not only minority Christians but all others in the country.

In Allied Health Science, the CMAI runs 25 Allied Health Professional (paramedical) courses through 57 training centres under the Central Education Board of CMAI and also supports many government health ventures in different aspects of health care.

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What Does Ending AIDS Mean? Faith-based Groups Share Honest Messages. 19/4/2016

What does ending AIDS mean? Faith-based groups share honest messages

Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, saying “Ending AIDS means stigma and discrimination are eliminated.”

“Act now, not later.” Dr David Barstow chose this message for a photo featured in the “100-day countdown” to a United Nations (UN) High Level Meeting on HIV in New York on 8-10 June.

As he participated in a UN civil society hearing on 6 April, Barstow, founder of EMPACT Africa, was one of many leaders from faith-based organizations who met with Francesca Merico, HIV campaign coordinator for the World Council of Churches - Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA). The hearing attempted to coalesce messages from many religious communities, humanitarian aid groups, social justice advocates, and government policymakers as they influence a UN Political Declaration that sets goals and guides commitments related to HIV and AIDS.

Barstow, Merico and others at the table have communicated on the world’s HIV and AIDS challenges many times, but some of them have just met for the first time face-to-face this week. As they share informally across the table they smile — and commiserate — about the challenge of forming a consensus among diverse faith communities.

Their dialogue injects a sense of urgency into a process that otherwise could feel bogged down by rhetoric and formality. They want to act — now.

Barstow, ruling elder at the Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church in Austin, TX (USA), often looks to the apostle Peter for inspiration. “What I like about Peter, perhaps because of his impetuousness, is his eagerness to act,” he says. “Peter doesn’t allow fear of making a mistake stop him from acting.”

EMPACT Africa’s name stems from the words — and the philosophy — EMpowering Pastors to ACT.

Others at the same table choose their messages with equal passion and determination.

Rev. Edwin Sanders, II, senior servant at the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, TN (USA), is also a board member of the Black AIDS Institute. He also serves on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Scientific Advisory Board.

Sanders’s message: “Ending AIDS means addressing racism” stems from his work that pushes inclusion on all levels.

Rev. Martin Diaz, representing the Evangelical Protestant Church of Salvador, wrote a message — “acabar con el vih es descriminalizar a las personas que usan drogas” — that reflects his activism for drug reform and ending corruption.

Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, executive director of the United Church of Christ HIV & AIDS Network in the United States, chose: “Ending AIDS means stigma and discrimination are eliminated.” He believes that stigma, at its worst, creates unsafe environments leading to violence and sometimes death.

Dr Stuart Kean, a senior policy adviser with World Vision International, also had a message for world leaders: “It is critical that world leaders provide the support to ensure that children and adolescents no longer are infected with HIV and those who are must have access to testing and treatment as a matter of urgency.”

Merico will take these messages and others into account as the WCC-EAA facilitates development of a “call to action” for faith leaders. She is also planning an interfaith prayer breakfast for June. Among other activities, the breakfast meeting will help amplify and unify the voice of an interreligious body as the High Level Meeting takes place.

“We would like to see faith leaders commit themselves on issues related to the Political  Declaration,” said Merico. “The declaration is not our finishing point but a starting point for all of us to make a commitment together.”

Finding common threads and a sense of unity among diverse faith communities is time-consuming, acknowledged a group that is committed to collaborating and ensuring diverse voices are heard.

Barstow’s grandfather, Dr Robbins Barstow, was among the faith leaders who gathered around the table during the time when the National Council of Churches in the U.S. was being formed. Robbins Barstow was determined to help refugees in the wake of World War II.

“I remember reading my grandfather’s letters about the challenges of getting the faith community to come to a consensus,” said David Barstow. “In some ways, our work is still the same.”

More information on the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance Live the Promise HIV Campaign

Human rights standards must guide response to HIV, WCC urges (WCC press release of 11 March 2016)

EMPACT Africa and Stigma Free Faith Communities

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World Religious Leaders Generate Additional Momentum for Ending AIDS by 2030. 1/6/2016

Published by UNAIDS

In advance of the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, released a video message entitled “Archbishop urges ‘great further step’ to end AIDS by 2030,” which was published on 18 May to help mobilize critical resources to communities most at need of HIV services. In the address, the Archbishop recognizes the great progress that has been made since the beginning of the epidemic, but pointed out that some communities are being left behind.

Six days later, on 24 May, Olav Fykse Tveit, Secretary-General of the World Council of Churches, released his own video message, entitled “World Council of Churches General-Secretary Olav Fykse Tveit’s message on interfaith action on HIV.” In the message, he says that the global community is facing a “crucial opportunity” to end AIDS by 2030, a goal he adds that is within our power.

The United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS will be held in New York, United States of America, from 8 to 10 June. United Nations Member States will draft a Political Declaration on Ending AIDS designed to reach the end of AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 as part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Both messages come after a recent statement by Pope Francis, “The encyclical letter Laudato si’ and other teachings of Pope Francis: an ethical basis for efforts to Fast-Track a more effective global AIDS response.” The statement by Pope Francis, in which he calls on the world to “find the will, the technical expertise, the resources and the methods that provide access to diagnosis and treatment available to all,” was presented at two consultations held in the Vatican City in April and May hosted by Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. 

Quotes

“This is the time to make a great further step mobilizing the political, the financial, the technical and the clinical resources through communities around the world to challenge AIDS afresh, to drive it from the news and to release communities from the fear that hangs over them in so many ways.”

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

“None of us should be alone. As we struggle with these challenges, we need to live and act together as a fellowship able to support and guide each other as fellow pilgrims in this journey. The global AIDS epidemic has taught us that we must do all what we can and that our part is not finished as long as somebody is left behind.”

Olav Fykse Tveit, General-Secretary of the World Council of Churches

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“A call, Not a Curse”: Churches of Eastern Europe, Central Asia Combine Efforts to Overcome AIDS. 27/6/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

http://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/201ca-call-not-a-curse201d...

“HIV is a call, not a curse.”The words of Bishop Methodius (Kondratiev) of Alapaevsk and Kamensk from the Russian Orthodox Church carry a message about the role of spiritual and moral dimensions of AIDS.

"HIV-infected persons in the Orthodox environment should not be outcasts or feel themselves as lepers surrounded by healthy people. HIV is not a sign of God's rejection,” he said.

He is part of a growing circle of Christian, Jewish and Muslim people in Eastern Europe and Central Asia who are sharing their experience responding to HIV to develop more coordinated cooperation among faith-based organizations, even as the number HIV infections increases in the region.

Conversations that began at the Fifth International Eastern European and Central Asian AIDS Conference (EECAAC) in Moscow three months ago are continuing today. With the motto "Every Life Matters,” the forum was the largest event on HIV prevention and treatment in the region, attended by 2,500 delegates from 79 countries. Among the participants were leading scientists, politicians, public figures, and representatives of international and religious organizations and non-government organizations.

"We need to build a bridge between scientific evidence and social transformation,”UNAIDS executive director and under-secretary general of the United Nations Michel Sidibé said. "You cannot overcome HIV just by scientific evidence; people do not understand it. Only religious organizations can build that bridge and reach people in their social circles. Religious organizations can fight stigma and discrimination and stand for social justice. They need to invite people to seek medical treatment, and no one should be left without treatment opportunities.”

According to the latest UNAIDS data, 1.5 million people in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are living with HIV. In 2015 there were an estimated 190,000 new HIV infections in the region, rising by 57 percent between 2010 and 2015. At the same time, new HIV infections worldwide have fallen by 6 percent since 2010. AIDS-related deaths worldwide have fallen by 45 percent since their peak in 2005. Yet in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the number of AIDS-related deaths has increased by 22% between 2010 and 2015.

The EECAAC saw wide participation of churches and religious organizations, including several dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Churches of Moldova and Belarus, Armenian Apostolic Church, Roman-Catholic Church of Russia, Lutheran Church of the European part of Russia, Churches of Evangelic Christians in Russia, the Church of Seventh Day Adventists and numerous Jewish and Muslim organizations. More than 70 representatives from religious communities of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Armenia attended. The process was supported by the World Council of Churches – Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

The largest part of the inter-religious work responding to HIV in Russia in recent years has been done by the Inter-Christian Coordinating Committee on HIV/AIDS, founded in 2005. It includes representatives from eight Christian denominations, the Roman-Catholic church being represented by Caritas.

“Thanks to the committee’s activities, all the participating denominations have developed an official stance on HIV/AIDS, created palliative care programs for people with HIV, programs for AIDS Prevention, as well as conducted training courses for clergy and social workers,” explains Margarita Nelyubova, representative of Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The committee has opened regional offices, and in some regions significant inter-church projects have been carried out. "For example, in St. Petersburg, Sisters of Mercy from different Christian denominations attend joint training courses where they learn how to care for HIV patients. In Moscow, representatives of Caritas together with the Russian Orthodox Church have been offering care for HIV-positive orphans already for several years,” said Nelyubova.

In Russia alone, 1 million people have been officially registered as HIV-positive since 1987. According to the Russian Federal Service for Consumer Rights and Human Wellbeing, Russia saw an increase of 8.7 percent in HIV infections in 2015, compared with nearly 12 percent the year before.

Differences between "western" and "Russian" approaches responding to HIV adds a tension to the preventive work. Experts of the Russian Institute for Strategic Research recently have blamed the spread of HIV in Russia on condoms and accused the West of exaggerating the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in Russia. A report presented to Moscow’s City Council on 31 May referred to the "promotion of traditional family values”as the main route to stopping the spread of HIV, attributing infections to promiscuity and homosexuality.

Yet Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the Moscow-based Federal AIDS Center, stated last year that the government’s conservative policies had failed to slow down the spread of the virus, and the last five years of the conservative approach have led to the doubling of the number of HIV-infected people.

Russia’s top AIDS expert has criticized the Kremlin’s agenda, saying the AIDS epidemic is worsening and at least two million Russians are likely to be HIV-infected in about five years unless tough measures are taken to halt the spread of the virus.

The 21st International AIDS Conference will be held in Durban, South Africa, 18-22 July 2016. An Interfaith Pre-Conference, “Faith on the Fast Track: Reducing stigma and discrimination; increasing access; and defending human rights now!” will be held 16-17 July. An Ecumenical Media Team will be covering faith-based participation at the conference. For more information see www.iacfaith.org or contact Sara Speicher at ssp@wcc-coe.org

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“Walk the Talk” - Philippines Churches put Words into Action for HIV Response. 19/7/2016

Published by OIKOUMENE

Walk the talk” - Philippines churches put words into action for HIV response

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 (NCCP) 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.

While it may seem a radical departure from what some would consider a gentler, pastoral approach, the general secretary of the NCCP, Rev. Rex Reyes Jr., is adamant: churches need to “walk the talk.”

NCCP’s ongoing campaign, tagged #PreventionNOTCondemnation, does not come out of the blue. For several years now, the council has been engaged in stepping up efforts to educate its member churches to challenge the stigma that clings to HIV and instead provide evidence-based prevention, care and treatment information and services.

New HIV cases number in the hundreds, which according to NCCP means scores of new infections per day. For NCCP this is a distressing situation, especially as people submit for HIV testing at a late period, when HIV is already advanced and can lead to AIDS. But forcing testing is not the answer; instead, NCCP believes that people should be encouraged to submit for voluntary counseling and testing (VCT).  “We challenge the varied myths and misconceptions of our faith communities about the HIV virus and the manner of infections,” explains Reyes. “Many [people] still think that they are immune or not affected by HIV. We are educating our religious leaders and church workers to help people understand that they are vulnerable to HIV simply because they are human. The HIV virus does not discriminate and, like any virus, can infect anyone.”

NCCP is not alone in stepping up its HIV campaign. The World Council of Churches (WCC) recently, through a pastoral letter, called for a recommitment to tackling HIV, and eliminating AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.  WCC’s commitment to ending AIDS by 2030 builds on an earlier call to action in June 2016 by diverse faith communities during the United Nations High-Level Meeting on AIDS. The call to action not only included signing their names to their commitment, but included a pledge to take the call back to their own communities, and adopt strategic targets to once and for all end AIDS..

In the run-up to AIDS 2016 in Durban, South Africa, Reyes spoke about the critical need to step up the campaign in the Philippines:

WCC: Why do you believe that it is so critical, from a faith perspective, that we tackle HIV and its attendant stigma?

Reyes: We need to deal with HIV and AIDS because it negates the divine promise of abundant life.  We need to deal with the stigma as an initial step to healing. Now that NCCP has committed to building compassionate and caring churches for people living with HIV and their families, many of our workshops have been eye-openers for awareness and understanding..  In many ways, these workshops become spaces for healing. We are glad that our churches are increasingly becoming more affirming, with a stance toward more open discussion on sex, gender, and sexuality. We deal with HIV and AIDS issues because they are issues affecting human dignity. That’s a theological statement. As a political statement we deal with HIV and AIDS issues because they are human rights. In either case, these are justice issues.

WCC: Are there examples that you can cite that have made a difference?

Reyes:  When we started NCCP’s programmatic engagement on HIV in 2011, participants in the workshops indicated that the whole aspect of human sexuality should be included in the discussions. We feared we might lose our focus on HIV awareness and the campaign to eradicate stigma if we did so. We were proven wrong. All of these have to be discussed though it meant increasing resources, and we do not have much. I am elated that several of our church leaders have agreed to undergo HIV testing, not only for the sake of being tested but also as a way of encouraging others, especially our young people, to undergo the same. There is growing enthusiasm among our member churches and partner organizations of people living with HIV (PLHIV) and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people to work together in promoting HIV prevention and encourage testing in the communities. Our member churches have also been proactive in seeking care and support for PLHIV within and outside their faith communities.. The literature we receive from ecumenical partners is also a form of encouragement to our churches to deal with issues surrounding human sexuality in so far as they have recommendations or specific actions that can be adapted for local implementation and in so far as they provide other perspectives that affirm the need for awareness and the removal of stigma. Overall, the program challenges myths and misconceptions about HIV.

WCC: When you say that you “challenge the varied myths and misconceptions of our faith communities about the HIV virus,” what are these myths and misconceptions?

Reyes: Many church people, both young and old, would usually say in the beginning of our SAVE workshops that HIV and AIDS do not affect them since this is a disease of prostitutes, gays, and drug users. Some also held the view that HIV can be transmitted through saliva, toilet seats, and mosquitoes. Participants shared that these misconceptions have contributed to their discriminatory attitudes towards people living with and personally affected by HIV. Providing accurate medical information, listening to PLHIV and using scripture to change attitudes in a safe space have helped to address these misconceptions.

WCC: Why would you say, after some 35 years of responding to HIV, is there such an uptick in new infections?

Reyes: The Philippines is faced with the reality of the widening gap between the rich and the poor. In recent years, high-earning individuals have enjoyed significantly faster growth in incomes compared with people from the middle- and low-income classes.

In our context, it is important to tackle the environment where risky behaviors in relation to HIV infections occur. Landlessness, joblessness, and unjust wages have fueled risky behavior such as commercial sex and drug use (through injection). The persisting gender inequalities in Filipino society have resulted in physical/sexual violence particular to women and LGBT people have also fueled the uptick of new infections. These are in addition to the lack of awareness on the whole issue of HIV and AIDS as well as the myths that we said need to be broken. Our government too, needs to do more in order for PLHIV to access up-to-date medical care. This is particularly wanting in our context.

WCC: You have been quoted as saying that “we are called to reflect” on the time that others “are made to suffer because of their gender identity and sexual orientation and how this negates the realization of life in its fullness.” Can you expand on what you mean by negating the “realization of life in its fullness?” What are the personal impacts; how does this shape our world? How do we enact a different way of doing/seeing/understanding to cease seeing HIV as a punishment?

Reyes: I hope this is not implying that we are late in engaging in programs to combat HIV and AIDS and the stigma as a result of it. Given that this country is a predominantly Christian country, the church has to reflect on some of those perspectives that make it exclusive or of being perceived as exclusive, however it claims to be welcoming or hospitable. At the same time, we need to act because of the urgency to make people aware that we are all vulnerable to the virus.

Our government needs to be taken to task, too. For instance, it took more than 13 years to pass the Reproductive Health Law that mandates government to fund the distribution of free contraceptives, requires government hospitals to provide reproductive health services, and mandates public schools to teach sex education. Of course part of the reason was the strong lobby against it from the church, mainly the Roman Catholic Church. Today, the law has yet to be implemented in its entirety.

With awareness comes the need to affirm and celebrate loving relationships amid diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. It also means going beyond the “being gay is fine but you have to be celibate” stand. While there is reason to rejoice in that some of the NCCP member churches are moving in the direction of challenging stigma and discrimination around HIV and AIDS, there is much to be done when it comes to its connection to sex and sexuality.

But the NCCP has taken a major step. Its convention resolution called for a more intentional sex and sexuality education for the youth. This is with the understanding that if Christ’s promise is abundant life, clearly anything that denies or prevents that promise from being realized must be exposed and dealt with. The SAVE tool kit has already allowed us to unlock many of these topics, and we have seen people freed from previously limiting understandings of human sexuality. Also important is to ensure that we do not “talk about” the LGBT community. We talk to and with them. We hold conversations.  This is where partnership with LGBT organizations is crucial.

Yes, we need to reflect on what our faith tells us in the light of objective realities, the advances made in science and biblical scholarship. If the Bible is the book yesterday, today and the future it must have refreshing wisdom to renew our faith in ways we have not known previously. Time was when labor was seen as a punishment. It doesn’t seem to be a view held commonly today.

WCC: How would you describe, at a personal level, what “hospitality” signifies for you?

Reyes: Who should be hospitable to whom? I think today the call is for a radical transformation to affirm inclusive churches. It is one thing to say all are welcome. It is another to say we are all in this together. Baptism - fidelity to what baptism demands – places all Christians under the same judgment. (Matthew:25) In an interfaith setting, upholding human dignity at all times is the starting point. Hospitality is a two-way process.  We are guests and hosts at one time or the other. Zacchaeus hosted Jesus Christ in his home. While in that home, Jesus welcomed Zacchaeus and his household.

WCC: What constitutes a path to wholeness and healing?

Reyes: Recognizing what is wrong is the first step. There is a system that dehumanizes, that marginalizes, that excludes and that makes people vulnerable. Sadly, this way espouses negative self-image. Sadly, too, some of what we claim to be tenets of the faith amplified and continue to amplify those social conditions. To listen to the voices of the vulnerable and those excluded is a fundamental Christian praxis and to look into those ways we may have contributed to their situation is a way toward being more compassionate. Solidarity is to place myself in their situation.  In the sharing of stories that follow – the genuine conversations that ensue – we begin to have a common understanding of objective realities that is liberating as it leads to common action. Love after all is not to be stated. It has to be lived out. And how much more profound can such be lived out if not to be one with them who are in pain because they are denied or prevented from that love? In our world today, we have to address this “othering.”

WCC: How does “stigma around sex and sexual debut” manifest itself in homes, churches, schools and workplaces?

Reyes: In our SAVE workshops we ask participants to answer the question “when and how did you learn about sex?” Responses would point to their friends, the internet, and school. Home, church or faith community were not in the list. It would entail a long discussion why this is so in the Philippine context. Suffice to say this alone says lot. For one, it is telling us there is a lot of work to be done.

WCC: How has this campaign been received? Does it have its limitations, and what successes have you noted, if any, in relation to NCCP having launched this campaign? Have people been receptive?

 

Reyes: On the whole it is positive. I cannot give an objective impact assessment as we have yet to undertake that. The NCCP is a small outfit when compared to the Roman Catholic Church. We have to start from where we are – our member churches and the larger community where they are. If the enthusiastic crowd of young people attending the workshops, the churchwomen taking active part in discussing sex and sexuality, and church workers including pastors and priests and theological students are likewise engaged in conversations on HIV, AIDS and human sexuality are any indications, we are doing well in the program. Add to that an aggressive social media campaign with some of our posters becoming viral especially in 2015. Advocates are growing and we need to sustain the campaign. We wish we can provide a haven for PLHIV as well as resources to provide for their medical sustenance. We pray and hope that day will come soon. But, we pray harder that HIV will be contained and that there will be no more discrimination of any sort.

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Faith News 2015

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A Discussion with Peter Okaalet, (formerly with) MAP International. 10/4/2015

Published by BERKLEYCENTER

 

Background: Peter Okaalet has long experience with the HIV and AIDS pandemic, both as a physician and a theologian. He has thus witnessed the evolution of thinking and practice and the impact of this disease on both society and church. In this discussion with Crystal Corman in Nairobi on April 10, 2015, he reflects on his own path and the importance he attaches to ensuring that pastors are knowledgeable about the disease and its impact in order to minister to them. Curricula he has developed are now in common use. The recent devolution of health services is an important and complex step, with advantages but also challenges.    
To start with, how did you become so deeply involved in Kenya’s health issues?

In 1988 a young man, John, died in my hands with complications of HIV/AIDS. I was working in a hospital in Uganda as a medical practitioner. He challenged me: “If I were you, I wouldn’t do more degrees in medicine, I would go and do theology.” I asked why? “Because all of us are going to die someday, but if indeed there is another life up there, I don’t want to miss that life because now this one is ending.” Four days later, he died. I think he knew how he had contracted the virus so he was dealing with issues of forgiveness, issues of another life, and issues of just coping with the pain.  

That challenged me (and continues to challenge me to this day): that my medical training up to that point was not helping me. In Uganda in those days, we didn’t have antiretrovirals (ARVs), the medication that is now prolonging people’s lives. So I just watched him and prayed with him until he passed away. That kept going through my mind: how could I have helped him? Was there something else I could have done? So I took up the challenge of doing theology. My wife and I crossed the border to Kenya in 1990 (two and a half years later). We came to study theology at the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology. It’s now Africa International University. We haven’t gone back to Uganda since then, except for visits to family members, and when necessary.  

What was your focus as a student of theology?
 

Upon completion of my master of divinity in 1993, the college asked me to be the medical doctor of the college, which involved looking after the lives of students, their families, faculty, staff members, and so on. But I had my mornings free, so I asked them to support me to do another master’s degree. I did a master’s in theology on the relationship between husbands and wives. Within biblical studies I chose to focus on husband and wife relationships, specifically headship and submission. Submission is a very sticky word. So I focused on what is in the Bible about what women should do and what men should do.

I didn’t reject the word submission because it is Biblical. It is difficult to rub it away but we can understand why it is there. When you start by understanding submission is meant to be mutual, it makes it a little easier to talk about wife submission, roles and responsibilities. Then the challenge for the man is to love his wife like Christ loved the church, willing to die for the church. That’s where many men fail. When it’s convenient for them they will talk about submit, submit, submit. Then when it is not they will shift to ‘my culture says this.’ Africa is a hierarchical society, so it is cultural for man to be above girls and women.

How did this theology expertise blend with your health work?

When I completed these studies, MAP (Medical Assistance Programs) International was looking for someone and I was hired after graduating with my second masters in 1996. From 1996 to 2011, I worked with MAP International at the East Africa region level, the continental level, and then the international level: from 2002-2006 I was Africa director, then 2006-2011, I worked in the global role as the senior director for Health and HIV/AIDS Policy for MAP offices in Latin America, some here in Africa, and in the US in Atlanta, Georgia. By God’s grace, I even addressed the US Senate (in February 2003) on the role of faith-based organizations in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  

How did you get involved with HIV/AIDS in the first place?

Uganda used to be at the top of everybody’s lists because the President was really at it.
They had the best response: openness, welcoming, compassionate, and talking about it. We started responding to HIV/AIDS in 1986. I was trained in 1987 for pre-test and post-test counseling.  

There was an organization that was created by Noerine Kaleeba: TASO, (The AIDS Support Organization). Her husband passed away due to complications of AIDS through a blood transfusion; the blood was infected. He was flown to the UK for treatment but, long story short, he succumbed. Three months later, she decided to do something about this disease and worked towards preventing other people from catching it, especially women. So Noerine created that organization. She started training people who were willing. At the time, I was working in Eastern Uganda and she was based in Kampala. Their team came to our region to train those of us interested in learning. That was my initial involvement. TASO reached out to religious groups, churches, pastors, and bishops. Then one of the Anglican bishops, Bishop Misairi Kauma, lost his son also around that time.

Were churches and faith leaders open to getting involved in HIV/AIDS?

When Bishop Kauma was told his son died of complications of AIDS, he reflected on the use of condoms and the roles of church leaders and so on, especially on the Catholic Church opposition to condoms. He asked himself after 3-4 months, “Suppose that my son had protected himself that night, the night he got the infection... Perhaps he would not have been infected.” So he coined a phrase when he was talking to young people: “If you are going to be so foolish enough to engage in pre-marital sex, don’t be so stupid as to not protect yourself.” He did not mention the C word, but at least the message went home to young people.  

Because of his activism, the president of Uganda made him the chairman of the National AIDS Commission (NAC). Here in Kenya it’s called the National AIDS Control Council. From that point on it has been headed by religious people. If it is not a Catholic bishop, it will be an Anglican bishop, or the leader of one of the other main religious groups as chair. President Museveni realized there is something about religious people. They have a big following, and when they speak, people listen. They are very influential, as I’m sure you have found.

So would you say this is part of the reason that Uganda’s response was so strong?

Its response to HIV/AIDS was very strong, but in those days we were not talking about strategic planning with a national strategy. The President led the way and leaders below him, like the bishops and carried the agenda. Eventually when the prevalence rates came down, the researchers came and asked what we had done. Initially I think the response in Uganda was just ad-hoc. People were dying in South Western Uganda. Those who died were the parents and young adults, so children were now heads of households. When a community noticed this, they had to pull up their socks and do something about care and behavior. Only later did plans and strategies emerge, as countries sought external financial support.  

Apparently over the years the leadership [of Uganda] has deviated to other areas so we see the focus on HIV/AIDS is really going down. While other countries used to go and learn from the experience of Uganda, now people are coming to Kenya. People from China and India, from other places, come to Kenya because Kenya seems to have got their act together and the prevalence is much lower now than even Uganda. The national average in Kenya is about 5.6. But in some regions it is much higher depending on the behaviors of the people, culture, social practices, etc.

Why do you think that Kenya is doing so well? What do you think they’re doing right?

A main factor is that the leadership is in place. The National AIDS Control Council in Kenya is the coordinating body. When it was created, they developed two documents: a monitoring and evaluation framework and then a strategic plan. They talked about the Three-Ones: having a coordinating body, a strategic plan, and a monitoring and evaluation tool. Then you can begin to put your arms around the response to HIV/AIDS.  

Recognizing the role of religious leaders has been important: the Council is working together with religious leaders very closely. I have been invited to support here and there the development of the National AIDS Action Plan and the National Action Plan by faith-based organizations. While we have focused on the national response, the government is now devolved politically so now we have 47 counties plus the national plan.

So devolution also includes the health system?

Everything is included. It is a challenge to devolve health, including the doctors, the nurses and staff. There have been reactions and some problems such as doctors going on strike, people unattended and dying, nurses going on strike because they did not want their salary to come from the county. They wanted to be paid by the national government. They felt remaining with the federal government was better for their career.    

The Ministry of Health has had good discussions with several of the governors in terms of approaching the challenges. The process has not gone very smoothly. It’s very complicated. Kenya has medical groups and the churches also have hospitals. I think over 40 percent of the response to challenges in health is through faith-based organizations and the government recognizes their importance. The Protestant churches have the Christian Health Association of Kenya (CHAK), which is quite involved and the Catholics have an equivalent, the Kenyan Episcopal Conference, now known as the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB). They are working together. MEDS (Mission for Essential Drugs and Supplies) is coordinated by the KCCB and CHAK: they handle pharmaceuticals for some of the UN bodies, CDC and even PEPFAR with the ARVs and so on.  

Tell me more about the Kenya national strategy and if or how faith-based providers are involved?

Nationally there is a Kenya AIDS Strategy Framework. The government has asked the faith-based organizations how they plan to fit into this. A meeting was held in Nakuru at the end of March 2015, to discuss how the faith-based organizations respond to that at a national level but also at the county level. At the moment, they’re trying to identify (faith leaders) champions from each of the counties who will then work together with the National AIDS Control Council (NACC). The NACC recognizes that approximately 95 percent of this country professes some kind of faith and therefore they are working to have a desk for faith-based organizations. That way, they will work with the Ministry of Health, universities, the private sector, and several other groups that are similar to faith-based organizations. If indeed they partner with faith actors, building their capacity and especially documenting what they are doing to share with the government, this will go a long way towards realizing the goals of the framework.  

Kenya, it seems, has been involving faith actors for quite a while.

Yes, a long while. But there are still gaps. “If you are doing four things very well” (Peter held up four fingers), “there are three gaps”. Three things very well, there will be two gaps. We need to partner with others who face gaps to strengthen each other. In all these countries they are discussing issues like how to get the religious people involved, whether it’s in reconciliation, gender issues, peace building, HIV/AIDS. I think there are more religious actors who speak up in this part of the world. It’s very key.

I will be one of 90+ leaders who’ll attend a PEPFAR consultation (April 2015) on the role of faith-based organizations in sustaining community and country leadership in the response to HIV/AIDS. It is to follow-up with those faith-based organizations that were invited from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania, two years ago. They want to know what different things have been done, how have they used the recommendations? We’ll continue to sustain this response by faith-based organizations for HIV/AIDS. Emory University is involved, as well as PEPFAR, and CDC.

On HIV/AIDS, where is Kenya now? Where does the most focus need to be?

The young people are most affected. Those between 15 and 24 are dying more of AIDS than any other age group. It seems we focused on adults so much that we forgot that group.  

Kenya has developed a Kenya HIV Prevention Revolution Road Map, count down to 2030. The aim is to focus on ‘Cluster A’ Counties, with an HIV prevalence of between 10 and 28 percent. These are: Nairobi, HomaBay, Kisumu, Siaya, Migori, Mombasa, Turkana, Busia, Kissi (Kenya HIV Prevention Road Map, by NACC and NASCOP, 2013).  

How do faith-based organizations work with that group if they are unmarried?

Faith communities much use the structures they already have, whether they are Muslim or Catholic, Christian, Protestant. If you have Sunday school or youth group, how can you talk about relationships and HIV/AIDS prevention?  

In my church, we have a ROPES (Rites Of Passage Experiences) curriculum that Christianizes rites of passage from child to adulthood, hoping to make rites and rituals safe, involve the parents, and teach about what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a man.

What can you tell me about curriculum or training for faith leaders on health topics like HIV/AIDS?

For HIV/AIDS, we recognized that many of the pastors didn’t know how to go about addressing the issue in the congregation. So we thought that we needed to come up with a curriculum targeting theological institutions, Bible schools. The goal was that before these pastors graduate and before they are sent out to minister, at least they will have gone through HIV/AIDS training. We started with manuals and came up with something called Choosing Hope, with eight modules. It dealt with various aspects of hope. That’s for people who already graduated and are working in their churches, like refresher courses.  

We saw that this was not enough, so decided to go into the institutions. We (at MAP International) developed a strategy called HIV/AIDS Education in Theological Education. We worked with St. Paul’s University in Limuru. Now they are running programs at undergraduate level, and at master’s degree level. At the M.A. level, it is the Community Care and HIV/AIDS program. The first class graduated in 2006. Once the curriculum is in the school then all the students going through that school can benefit. Students can choose to sign up. The core course is theology and then there are electives. But in the end, everyone has to go through it. I think it became mandatory. St. Paul’s picked it up first. Lately, several other schools in the region like, Uganda Christian University, picked it up.  

Also implementing the M.A. level curriculum–with contextual modifications–are: Makumira in Tanzania, Kwazulu Natal and Stellenbosch Universities in South Africa, Evangelical Theological College, in Ethiopia,

Has this training for clergy been effective?
 

Unfortunately we don’t have the funds to follow through with, for example, a cohort study where you compare congregations run by people who have gone through that course and another as a control. Anecdotally, though, we can see that there’s a lot of difference. I’ve visited and worked with some of them. It’s exciting to see what they’re doing. Some of them are asking for Ph.D. and the masters level courses. It makes a big difference when we follow that model in terms of understanding, responding, prevention, care, and support.

What are the main HIV/AIDS issues in Kenya today? And do you see far less orphans as a result of AIDS?

If you compare the population of adults on treatment to those that are diagnosed with HIV, and those who need the treatment, the population of adults on treatment is bigger than the population of the children. Pediatric AIDS is still a challenge. Another challenge that is coming up is children who are born with HIV whose parents died, who are growing up as a teenagers and young people. There you cannot talk about prevention, yet they need to be taken care of. But they are now at the point that they are getting into social relationships, so how do you handle that? This is a challenge not just for Kenya but for the region.  

Some groups focusing on this group: the clinics and hospitals run by Africa Inland Church, like Kijabe Hospital. They give them the medication and treatment, and they report regularly for checkups. But who is addressing the psychosocial issues these young people have? I want to do something about that–and/or partner with others doing the same. And I’ve considered writing a book on the subject.

So there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done?

Yes indeed. When I hear about an AIDS-free generation, I think it’s just a statement. We can hope to stop new infections or reduce them sharply by 2030, as in the strategic plan. That is a goal that can be achieved. But in terms of an AIDS-free society, I think that is a little too ambitious, because of the number of people infected will continue to go up. Now retired or elderly people are starting to contract HIV/AIDS because of their life styles – and the elders have kind of been left out of programming. Men, when they pass the midlife crisis, want to prove something. So apparently there’s a spike among that generation that is getting infected.

Do you think all the awareness raising will have a lasting, life-long impact? Or are people forgetting about the risks?

Uganda is the only country in the region where there is resurgence. All the things we talked about were done, for example bishops and everyone responding. For a generation, few of them have died. But I think they are just worn out. So I think we just need to keep retraining generation by generation. Otherwise people become complacent. Now that we have ARVs, people know they can take their medication and continue to live normally. This is in itself a challenge because people now view HIV like hypertension or diabetes: I can live with it, so what is the big deal?  

What are some of the sticky issues for religious leaders in terms of engaging on HIV/AIDS work?

I’ve done trainings with religious leaders across denominational divides. In one meeting a Catholic bishop said, “Surely you don’t expect me to hold the Bible in one hand and a condom in the other hand and give it to the congregation? Is that what you expect me to do?” I responded by saying that from the pulpit in church, I will leave that to the Bible. But after mass, in a one-on-one meeting, you can offer to talk about how each individual needs to protect him/herself. Some of the bishops have come a long way to appreciate the fact that they may not distribute condoms but they just need to work with everybody who needs to be protected. Whatever their lifestyle and whatever they’ve chosen to do, they need to be protected. Some religious leaders are outspoken and they can be approached. Some are not. People learn who can be approached. 

 

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Faith Organizations Key HIV Carers. 04/12/2015

Published at Caritas.org

Wriiten by Robert Vitillo

30 November 2015


Worldwide, faith-based organisations serve a significant percentage of people living with HIV. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that 30-70 percent of health care in low-income countries is operated by faith-based organisations (FBOs). Catholic Church-related organisations engaged in HIV response are active in at least 114 countries.

Read the Caritas Internationalis statement

The contribution of FBOs to healthcare, and particularly to HIV care, has not always received the recognition it deserves. Some governments and experts in the medical field recognize us as well intentioned and “nice” people and express appreciation for our programmes at the grassroots, but they often claim that we just don’t enough data to demonstrate the effectiveness of our programmes.

The report “Ending AIDS as a Public Health Threat” offers compelling evidence that, in many parts of the world, FBOs are key stakeholders in the HIV field. The report not only shows what we’re doing, but it also presents approaches that could serve as good care models for both governments and private providers..

Particularly in developing countries, FBOs have long-established traditions of caring for the poorest and least developed communities. The quality of care is motivated by the value of service and is driven by an ethos of compassion and solidarity.

One of the differences between FBOs and other medical providers is that they take into account the needs of the whole person – including their emotional, social and spiritual needs. We do not consider only their medical conditions.

In fact, I think that the provision of pastoral or spiritual care if one of the most essential components of FBO health programmes. People have better recovery rates when they receive pastoral care; this is true for many illnesses, not only for HIV infection, but also for other illnesses. Spirituality beliefs and practices provide people with a way of expressing and strengthening their relationship with God.

Therefore, it is an important element of life for many people in various parts of the world. Clients or patients receiving services from FBOs often say that they prefer this approach to treatment – the holistic care doesn’t just treat the body but also cares for the mind and spirit. It provides people with the motivation to stay on treatment and to live longer.

While preparing our report, we saw excellent examples of holistic care. For example, hospitals and clinics associated with Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau provide professional medical care, social and economic help, as well as pastoral care and training to gain new job skills.

People living with HIV reported that they faced much less stigmatizing or discrimination when seeking services from FBOs. They also claimed that they felt more secure that staff of FBOs are better at maintaining confidentiality. Staff and volunteers in FBOs are trained to show respect for those who are suffering and to uphold the Church belief that all people are created in the image and likeness and God, whatever their health status might be.

When the HIV epidemic moved into its third decade, the international public health community focused more on a systematic and targeted response than on emergency response. The trend now is to have governments take more responsibility for HIV but in low- and middle-income countries, the governments often are burdened with weak healthcare infrastructures and are not always able to reach all people living in poverty or in rural areas.

Also, many of those interviewed reported that they were facing cutbacks in funding, which results in many challenges and problems. There is a serious concern that national governments and/or foreign funders will no longer provide enough support to assure life-long medicines for people living with HIV?

Another serious issue concerns the future of AIDS orphans. It is estimated that 17 million children and adolescents worldwide who have lost parents to AIDS-related illnesses. Some of these children rebel against their situation, which becomes even more complicated when the young people themselves are living with HIV. Special efforts are needed to respond to the needs of these vulnerable young people.

In order to achieve universal access to treatment for all people living with HIV, all key stakeholders, including governments, international organisations, civil society, faith-based organisations, and groups of people living with HIV will need to develop stronger partnerships and collaboration.

Dr. Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS, identified the crucial contribution of FBOs to this type of partnership, “We are entering a new phase where we can see the beginning of the end of AIDS. The faith communities have the scale, and the means to move us forward. You care about the dignity of the person and it is only this unique combination of access to drugs and dignity that can provide the necessary drive to reach the end of the AIDS epidemic.”

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‘HIV a health, not moral, issue’. 10/03/2015

Published at NewsDay
Written by Phyllis Mbanje
9 March 2015


HEALTH activists have launched a campaign to lobby churches and other institutions to view HIV as a health and not moral issue so as to eradicate stigma associated with the condition.

This was revealed during the launch of the Zimbabwe Stigma Index (ZSI) report convened by the Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV (ZNNP+) in Harare.

The ZSI is a research initiative driven and implemented by people living with HIV. It seeks to measure the levels of stigma associated with HIV.

Participants called on church leaders to be open about HIV and Aids issues and discourage congregants from looking at it from a moralistic point of view which they described as judgmental.

Tonderai Chiduku, co-ordinator of national stigma index, said some of the findings of their research were that leaders of various churches were reluctant to discuss HIV and Aids and even those who were infected were reluctant to disclose their status.

“We need to put in place some form of dialogue with the church and discuss these concerns because they hamper access to treatment,” Chiduku said.

He also raised concern over church leaders who discouraged their HIV-positive congregants from taking medication on false assurances that they had healed spiritually. “This is a big issue which requires setting up a framework for dialogue.”

Speaking at the same event, ZNNP+ executive director Muchanyara Mukamuri said the report’s main objective was to help stakeholders come up with interventions that would effectively address issues of stigma.

“Because stigma acts as a barrier to treatment, it should be dealt with if we are to realise our goal of getting to zero new infections,” Mukamuri said.

She, however, said the fight against HIV and Aids was pivoted on adequate funding which was still a problem in Zimbabwe.

“What we need is domestic financing because if we continue to rely on outside funding, they will continue to dictate to us and some of their programmes might not be suitable or helpful in our context,” she said.

Other key findings of the report, whose research was commissioned in 2013, indicate that children of people living with the HIV were among the most discriminated.

“This occurs in various settings, school, and church and even at health facilities,” Chiduku said. Of the over 1 900 respondents who took part in the research, 65,5% had experienced form of stigma and discrimination.

 

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AIDS: Churches Work Across local Networks in Latin America and Caribbean. 04/12/2015

Published at Lutheranworld.org

1 December 2015


GENEVA, 1 December 2015 (LWI) - The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), through the regional HIV and AIDS network, are among several churches in the Lutheran communion that observe World AIDS Day on 1 December and throughout the Advent season.

Lutheran churches in the LAC region will hold a series of activities including worship services using the World AIDS Day liturgy prepared by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance initiative of the World Council of Churches. They support the global United Nations goals of zero new infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero discrimination.

The liturgy, which has been translated into Spanish by members of the Christian Lutheran Church of Honduras (ICLH), illustrates the reality of those living with HIV in Swaziland and the work of the Roman Catholic Cabrini Ministries, which works among them.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia (IELCO) will come together with other faith-based organizations in a liturgical service on 5 December focused on stopping the spread of HIV. The initiative shows the solidarity by people of faith against AIDS in Colombia, said Rosemary Corner of IELCO.

The ICLH is raising awareness about HIV and AIDS while strengthening local networks working on the issue. It collaborates with World Vision and agencies such as the Rina Rhodes Health Center in Colonia, San Francisco.

The Lutheran Church of Peru (ILP) works with the Peruvian Interfaith Network in its AIDS response, which is incorporated in the church’s advocacy on human rights and the focus on ending violence against women. On 29 November the network held a service to affirm the dignity of those living with HIV and AIDS.

“Violence against women is not only a major public health and human rights throughout the world; it also significantly increases the vulnerability of women to HIV and AIDS,” remarked Maria Trinidad, a member of the interfaith network.

An estimated 1.2 million people have died from AIDS-related diseases globally, while 37 million people are living with HIV, according to UNAIDS. In addition, 2 million people became newly infected in 2015, and 22 million people worldwide living with HIV are still not accessing treatment.

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Syringe Exchange: A Moral Issue. 10/3/2015

Published at The Body
Written by Benjamin Shepard et al.
Winter 2009/2010


Introduction

When thinking about HIV prevention, it is useful to consider a few statistics. More than a quarter of AIDS cases in the U.S. among people 13 and older are directly linked to the use of injection drugs. Among women, 40% of AIDS cases are due to injection drug use or sex with someone who contracted HIV through injecting. Injection drug users (IDUs) account for some 30% of all people with AIDS in the U.S. Once infected, IDUs have the highest illness and death rates and progress to AIDS faster than any other group. IDUs account for 70% of people with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), and a third of all people with HIV also have HCV. And much of this takes place among already at-risk groups. "African-Americans and Latinos face disproportionately high rates of HIV due to injection drug use," notes the Harm Reduction Coalition. "Pervasive stigma towards drug use among health care providers results in unequal treatment for people with a history of drug injection, leading to suboptimal care."

When thinking about HIV and about health in general, we must also consider social and economic gaps. One in five New Yorkers lives in poverty. In the U.S. as a whole, the richest 1% of the population controls more of the nation's wealth than the bottom 90% combined. Such inequality directly affects the general health and HIV risk factors of the poor. "We carry our history in our bodies" explained one doctor, reflecting on the effects of income and social issues on health. Economic policy is health policy. This is particularly true with regard to HIV and HCV.

The greater prevalence of HIV among women and drug users in African-American and Latino communities complicates an already difficult situation. To be at all effective, HIV prevention efforts must attempt to curb HIV stigma, sexism, homophobia, racism, and other social injustices, such as poor education and lack of housing. All of these factors fuel high-risk behavior, which increases the risk of HIV and HCV exposure. Social stigma, discrimination, the invisibility of drug users in public health policies, and "abstinence-only" approaches based on ideology rather than evidence all serve to limit access to HIV prevention services and quality health care. But there are options out there.

 

Syringe Exchange

The single most effective means of HIV prevention among IDUs is syringe exchange. This harm reduction approach offers tools to protect the health and well-being of drug users and their sexual partners, loved ones, and communities. Syringe exchange programs (SEPs) provide tools, resources, and education to assist people who inject drugs by helping them learn about and use safer injection and safer sex practices. They have had a tremendous impact on the HIV epidemic, and the annual incidence of new HIV infections among IDUs has dropped roughly 80% since the late 1980s.

Despite their remarkable effectiveness in reducing HIV, SEPs are not as widespread as they should be, and significant gaps and challenges remain. Stigma, community opposition, and severely limited funding sources, have worked to prevent SEPs from meeting the growing needs of their communities. National studies have found that areas with high rates of HIV infection often do not offer legal access to sterile syringes. Even in states where syringe exchange is openly available, regulations can be onerous. Jamie Favaro, Executive Director of the Washington Heights Corner Project, noted providers must jump through a number of hoops to get such programs off the ground: "A lot of work goes into getting a syringe exchange program started. And I found that through doing that, who I was as an activist and my work really changed." Many such programs are forced to confront a constant onslaught of questions and concerns by those who view drug use in terms of morality rather than public health.

 

Faith-Based Barriers

Compounding this, communities of faith have not consistently embraced HIV prevention among IDUs. Very few have stepped forward to support syringe exchange or commonsense HIV prevention. For example, on a recent trip to Africa, the Pope reiterated his longstanding opposition to condom use, even to fight HIV. Gay and bisexual men, IDUs, and other groups at high risk of HIV infection are often not represented among religious communities. Moralizing HIV infection and drug use has significantly restricted the dialogue around HIV and IDUs, with negative effects on public health policy and funding for SEPs.

While syringe exchange has long been recognized by the public health community as a valuable and effective tool in HIV prevention, communities of faith have historically been ambivalent about supporting it. "Religious traditions had a paradoxical impact on the social response to the epidemic: both a source of stigma and the basis of enormous concern and compassion," writes sociologist Susan M. Chambré. "Some religious leaders used AIDS as an object lesson illustrating moral decline. Others preached compassion and emphasized the obligation to care for the sick and dying." Generally speaking, opposition to syringe exchange has been rooted in the belief that supporting syringe exchange is an endorsement of drug use. Despite the fact that it has been shown that syringe exchange does not encourage or increase drug use, the condemnation of drug use has been a primary barrier to its acceptance.

 

Faith-Based Efforts

Syringe Exchange: A Moral Issue Yet there are examples of faith-based efforts to support these programs. For example, CitiWide Harm Reduction began operations in 1995 with the support of La Resurrection United Methodist Church, providing services in areas of Upper Manhattan and the Bronx that few service providers had reached out to. St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction in the Bronx was founded with a similar mission. Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan has long facilitated and supported harm reduction training and practices. Other religious groups, including the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church USA, The United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the Union for Reform Judaism have come out in support of harm reduction and SEPs. Some congregations have even blessed condoms and syringes in the hopes of curbing the spread of the virus. Others have facilitated harm reduction outreach.

The HIV work of religious groups has its roots in a holistic concern for preventive health care, respect for the dignity of those affected, and a fundamental belief that each person has an essential worth. Houses of worship first offered care and treatment for people with HIV and their families, and gradually shifted into sexual health efforts to address HIV and other STIs. Eventually, they began HIV prevention efforts for high risk-populations, including IDUs.

Churches in hard-hit communities have been compelled to confront their own theologies. For many years, traditional moralism had a negative impact on HIV prevention and care. Father Errol Harvey, formerly of Manhattan's St. Augustine Church, explained: "There is more awareness for the issue now. Not sure if the needle exchange issue is passé now. Many leaders in the black church are still learning. I would like to think that this has changed/is changing. To take a stand in endorsing needle exchange is a big jump."

Catholic Charities in San Francisco took over an HIV housing program that had run into financial troubles. The program provided housing, services, and stability for people in need. But they were unable to support harm reduction efforts such as providing condoms. The result was uneven, which typifies the Catholic Church's response. While many saw harm reduction in terms of permissiveness, others saw it as part of a theology of care, blessing syringes and condoms as part of comprehensive outreach.

 

Personal Responses

Reverend Stacey Latimer is the Founder/CEO of Love Alive International Inc., a faith-based nonprofit committed to empowering those affected by HIV and other heath problems that plague the black community. "HIV has become the teacher," he explains. "It has caused us to have to deal with issues we have not wanted to deal with including drug use. Our own theologies have paralyzed us. God has raised up nonprofits which have taught the church theology of human compassion. No one can one look at who they are as separate from our struggles." Given this, Latimer has been able to embrace harm reduction. "Drug users are a people who are a part of us. When one is suffering, when one is hurt, we are all hurt. Leaders don't want to talk about drug use because they don't want to talk about their own drug use. When I talk to you I have to talk about me. Help them see who they are and where there are holes in the fence that they are trying to build up and you do it through love."

"Needle exchange offered us a way to say that drug addicts are people and they have an illness that merits concern and love."

Father Harvey saw the AIDS battle as part of a larger struggle for social justice, and in a biblical context similar to leprosy. "How are we to treat people who have been afflicted by a terrible disease," he asks. "People moralize AIDS, and the church needed to step up and take leadership on this issue." So Harvey viewed harm reduction efforts within a similar humanist view. "Needle exchange offered us a way to say that drug addicts are people and they have an illness that merits concern and love. Needle exchange was a reality. Until we get people in [drug] treatment then this is a way to take care of them."

In 1993, Father Robert Arpin wrote a book of letters entitled Wonderfully, Fearfully Made, about his experience of living with HIV as an openly gay priest. "AIDS is a sickness, a disease -- not a moral judgment, not God's wrath," he wrote to his congregation: "Tell [those with AIDS] that they are loved, not by God, but by you. Because the only hands God has to touch them with are your hands. And the only heart God has to love them with is your heart." Arpin would die the following year, but not without planting a seed of tolerance that spread. When Geneva Bell's son died of AIDS in the early 1990s, she wrote about her experience in My Rose: An African American Mother's Story of AIDS. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago reflected on her experience: "[R]eading her story may awaken us to the true meaning of Jesus' words: 'Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my little ones you have done it unto me.' It is certainly my prayer that the latter will be the case." Many -- but not all -- faith communities have taken his words to heart.

 

Conclusion

As these stories attest, the response of faith communities to HIV and syringe exchange has been mixed and complicated. Bob Arpin noted that the Catholic Church was homophobic and tolerated him only because of his illness. As the current Pope's speech in Africa suggests, hard-line theology still often trumps evidence-based HIV prevention. Yet, on the ground, people from a wide range of perspectives have learned from their experience of coping with HIV. As this article was being completed, Catholic Charities New York announced that for the first time it would support SEPs in New York State. "I understand there will be questions, but this is common sense," said Sister Maureen Joyce, CEO of Catholic Charities. Many have turned away from hard-and-fast positions to support any program they can find, including syringe exchange, that will curb the epidemic. Yet, moralism dies hard, and continues to impede public health efforts. n

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Addressing the HIV threat through education and training. 9/3/2015

Published at WCC
Written by Sandra Cox
23 February 2015


Addressing the HIV threat through education and trainingThe idea that HIV is present in the life of every human being, regardless of their susceptibility to the disease, could be seen as shocking. It could even be offensive.

 

But it is the premise behind a successful HIV training programme, based in one of the societies with the highest HIV rates in the world, South Africa – that has sent out hundreds of educators and reached tens of thousands of people for more than a decade.

Lyn van Rooyen, executive director at the Christian AIDS Bureau for Southern Africa (CASBA), a partner organization of the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy, says this provocative approach suggests everyone should treat HIV as a community problem.

HIV education programmes are as good as useless – or even detrimental - if they add to the stigma surrounding the disease or approach HIV as someone else’s problem, she says.

“Churches may have a wonderful idea to run an HIV programme in townships and poor areas here in South Africa, for example, but may do so without asking how the disease impacts them.

“If you think only in terms of those people who are homosexual or those who are poor, then you always see HIV as being outside yourself. If you’re in western Europe and view HIV as the problem of those other people in the global south, then your response is always from a place of superiority.”

She offers herself as an example: “I do not fit the typical profile of someone at risk of HIV, but how vulnerable am I really? My husband and I both travel extensively and we have been married a long time. When we ask ourselves how that affects our vulnerability, then HIV is us.”

CABSA’s training programme takes a three-pronged approach to HIV, teaching facilitators about the virus and its transmission in a human body, the biblical response to disease, and practical measures to respond to the challenges of the pandemic. Of the more than 800 people trained in HIV competencies, a survey of just over 100 recently found their reach had extended in 2013 to nearly 55,000 people throughout not only southern Africa but other African countries and as far afield as Russia.

A church response to the pandemic – judge the problem, not the person

CABSA training focuses on people, more so than their actions. Knowing those factors that make people vulnerable and that limit their choices should be the Christian response to HIV, says Van Rooyen.

The biblical principal that everyone is created in the image of God underlies CABSA devotions and training.

Moreover, the programme’s success is measured in more than numbers. CABSA talked about hope long before medicine was available: not only hope in the afterlife but that in the absence of medication, people living with the virus still had meaning in their lives.

“The New Testament talks of Christ being ‘God with us,’ and the way in which we then can be the presence of God for others, the way we can assist in healing a broken world. We hear wonderful stories of hope. I’ve heard more theology in shacks of people living with HIV than in all the books I’ve read,” she says.

In the days before medication, she was in a hut with a man lying on the floor, dying. “I asked him how he was. His response was, ‘God is good.’ I still can’t get my head around that.”

CABSA brings hope to people who have otherwise lost every trace of it. “People say I’ve been diagnosed, I will die. But we say that if you get the disease under control, you will see your grandchildren. We’re bringing hope from a medical perspective but also a biblical perspective and a hope that God sees you and values you in the midst of disease.”

As a consequence of the fact that HIV runs along the fault lines of society, many factors play a role in its transmission, such as gender inequality and social instability resulting from war or migration. People most at risk of these circumstances are correspondingly most at risk of HIV. And dealing with this is a matter of justice, to which the church must respond, Van Rooyen says.

Out-dated thinking hinders HIV campaigns

Yet barriers from the church remain. Arguments about disease being the punishment for sin, with sexual disease the worst of all, prevail. The idea abounds that the man makes decisions for the family, that women must submit to husbands – even abusive husbands, and that it is not the role or place of women to question their husbands’ behaviour. The simplistic “Abstain, Be faithful and use Condoms” campaign is inadequate. “An unhealthy mix of culture and theology can bring very damaging results,” she says.

More than ever, CABSA needs funds to keep going. Van Rooyen wants to see a faith presence at June’s South Africa AIDS conference, which is the springboard to the International AIDS Conference in Durban next year.

CABSA also contends with the fact that the “slow-wave” HIV pandemic has receded in the mind of the public, yet still 1000 new infections are reported each day in South Africa alone, exacting a cost for long-term treatment that even many developed countries would struggle to meet.

The pandemic, now in its fourth decade, is as critical as ever but, sadly, more easily dismissed. Training and education remain an inexpensive and effective means of defying the disease’s hold on society.

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Minister Tests Archbishop, Shaikh’s Status as Part of HIV-programme. 23/10/15

Published at nrasd.org.za


Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi on Wednesday tested the HIV status of vice-president of the Moslem Judicial Council, Shaikh Achmat Sedick, at the launch of the Religious HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) Programme, an initiative of the National Religious Association for Social Development (NRASD)Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi on Wednesday tested the HIV status of the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Dr Thabo Makgoba as well as that of the vice-president of the Moslem Judicial Council, Shaikh Achmat Sedick.

The event formed part of the launch of the Religious HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) Programme, where more than 40 of South Africa’s pre-eminent churchleaders had their HIV-status tested. It took place at the Southern Sun, OR Tambo.

Other important religious figures who participated, included Rev. Frank Chikane (SA Council of Churches), Archbishop Dr Zandisile Magxwalisa (Jerusalem Church in South Africa), Archbishop Jabulani Nxumalo (Roman Catholic Church), Rev. Mukondeleli Ramulondi (Uniting Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa), The Most Revd Bishop Lunga ka Siboto (Ethiopian Episcopal Church), Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa (Methodist Church of Southern Africa/SACC), Prof Mary-Anne Plaatjies Van Huffel (Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa), Dr David Phaladi Tswaedi (Lutheran Communion in Southern Africa) and Rev. Cornelis Janse van Rens