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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