God, AIDS, Africa and HOPE

Thoughts, inside, comments of a Catholic priest

Reflection on a conference Down Under

Sitting at Melbourne airport waiting for my long trip back to South Africa it’s time to reflect on this years World AIDS Conference . I remember being in a somber and rather annoying mood entering the plane to Australia. The downing of MH17 over the Ukraine produced not only an unease feeling about flying, but also a sense of real anger that downright stupid politics could translate in killing innocent people high up in the sky. Somber and serious was also the mood at the opening ceremony when a minute of silence was observed before in a rather helpless move the usual declaration followed: “They would have wanted us to go ahead.” Bright heads were lost and honestly we can’t effort to lose one in the battle against HIV and AIDS.

The topics discussed of the conference were as diverse as the visitors. From the scientific portfolio the discovery of how to “kick and kill” the virus presented from the University of Aarhus in Denmark got lots of publicity. Another step in the effort for a functional cure lots of scientists and activists are dreaming of.
Human rights and HIV was another returning topic. As it is now common knowledge, there are three groups driving the infection worldwide: MSM – men who have sex with men, Escorts and prostitutes and IDU – injecting drug users.
IDU’s and Sex for money are in most countries matters of police and justice, driving those involved rather in the dark corner of society. That makes it very difficult to approach those affected and bring prevention, care and protection into those circles.Homosexuality is specially in Africa in the moment a hot topic – US American Evangelists telling Africans how to be an African achieved quite a lot of damage in Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya putting all efforts to hold the epidemic in jeopardy. Unfortunately the churches in these countries played their part to drive the pandemic back in the underground where it will continue to thrive and come up with new infections.

2020 is now the buzz word for an AIDS free generation, but as it became clear on the conference, we might miss the aim because of money constrains. Too many people worldwide are still without treatment or even don’t know their status. Too many in power think that the problem is solved at least for their country and don’t really give a damn about the rest of the world.  We have achieved so much in the last years and it would be more than a pity if we would let go again and give the virus a second chance.

The Global Village was smaller than in Washington but not less interesting to see what others had to showcase . It was a pleasure to mingle and meet people from all over the world and knowing that we all try in our ways to end the pandemic.
The Exhibition Hall was populated by all the pharmaceutical companies and those producing equipment of all kind. Here the same picture emerged which always irritates me: some African representatives coming with their big shopping bags and taking away what they can on pens, note blogs and other gifts. I was standing next to the Imperial booth where one representative reprimanded a fellow delegate that she has already been here yesterday to take all pens she could get a hand on. To no avail: as soon as she turned around the delegate took another load before disappearing into the next booth. I can’t but feel embarrassed by this attitude.

Religion and Aids was also a topic now and then. There was a Catholic pre-conference which seems to happen every two years but rather an insider affair with selected participants. At the main conference I attended one on podium on religion and AIDS and I was honestly not impressed about the Catholic representative from India, quoting mainly all what is forbidden to do according to the Catholic catechism. The amount of people leaving the room while he was speaking spoke for itself. A missed opportunity as the Catholic church has a social teaching which contributes so much in this field and a moral theology which should be opened up to development.  I met with a Catholic activist from the Philippines who interestingly was also part of the pre-conference, himself sponsored by a Australian outreach church. Mentioning the strict role of the dominant Catholic church in his home country he also mentioned that at the pre-conference it had to turn down his rhetoric as in his country one does not speak out to direct when “Fathers” are present.

When I look back now on the entire conference then it seems that AIDS is really taking a backseat more and more. The conference was well organised but without real highlights – yes there was Bill Clinton and as always he drew big crowds and at the final plenum one had to endure Bob Geldorf and his platitudes. Like always it was the input of hard-working scientists and activists which triggered my interest. It’s their hard work which moves the fight against HIV and AIDS forward. The global figures show that simply spoken the danger isn’t over yet and there are still too many new infections and too many deaths to count every year. Stigma, ignorance and discrimination are still prevalent and show their ugly faces every day for thousands of people infected and affected.

The World Aids Conference is coming back to one of the hotspots in 2016 – Durban / South Africa. It is meant to close the gap and to win the battle. That means hard work for the next two years and overcoming the challenges and obstacles lying ahead. We from HOPE Cape Town will surely be part of it and as the conference will be in South Africa, there will be surely be more representation possible than sending one lonely man to down-under :-)
But for him like for most such a conference is always an energizer moment realising one is not alone. Thousands world wide are lenting their knowledge and skills, their helping hand to end the pandemic and to give back dignity to all those affected and infected. Conferences like this are necessary to learn, to embrace new ideas, to see, touch and feel for yourself that one is part of a bigger movement for the greater good of mankind.

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, Medical and Research, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No time to rest in the fight against HIV and AIDS

Coming back from Europe and heading next week to the World Aids Conference in Melbourne, the news about the so-called “Mississippi Baby” feels like a punch in the gut and a damper to the hopes of a functional cure. The child known as the “Mississippi baby” — whose apparent cure was reported in The New England Journal of Medicine last fall — has had the virus return after more than two years off anti-retroviral therapy, according to specialists involved in the case who spoke in a Thursday news briefing. “Certainly, this is a disappointing turn of events for this young child, the medical staff involved in the child’s care and the HIV/AIDS research community,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases (USA), at the briefing. The development “reminds us that we still have much more to learn about the intricacies of HIV infection and where the virus hides in the body,” Fauci said in a statement. “The NIH remains committed to moving forward with research on a cure for HIV infection.”
Not only the NIH, but we all, the activists, researchers and those infected and affected have to acknowledge how bumpy the road to a functional cure or even a vaccine will be. This story ones again reminds us that HIV and Aids are not defeated yet. The easiness of European youth and society in believing that some pills would sort out those being infected – and further believing that this anyhow only applies to those others, those being gay or immigrants from Africa or injecting drug users should be re-evaluated after such news. HIV and Aids are still a treat to humanity and society and as we make progress, we can’t declare victory. Otherwise we look as stupid as then-president Bush declaring victory over Iraq on one of his war ships – look at the situation in the country in our days.
The news about the Mississippi baby should also serve as a warning to donors that withdrawing funding because we have won the battle is an illusion. The Global Aids Fund and all the NGO’s in the field of HIV, Aids and related illnesses need more funding to gain progress in the fight against the syndrome. We have achieved so much but there are still millions dying every year as a result of the pandemic and there are millions out there without treatment. Resistance is growing and we only have to look at TB and South Africa to see what could develop if we not keep watch. The virus is waiting for a re-run if society is not taking it serious anymore. And the dream of a HIV free generation will be blown up in shatters – therefore no time to rest in the fight against HIV and Aids.

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, Medical and Research, Politics and Society, Reflection, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reading day…

There are so many articles and blogs about HIV and AIDS that one could read for days without getting through all of them. Here is a selection of what caught my eyes in the last days:

A dream to end AIDS – a short notice about one of the researches who discovered the HI virus. It reminds us of the long way still ahead for millions of people to be able to live with HIV

Truvada as PrEP lowers Herpes infection – a new study suggests the drug can also lower infection rates of genital herpes, despite opponent concerns that use of PrEP would lead to an increase in STDs including herpes

What spirituality really means – we all talk about it in our days and most people living with the virus discover it for themselves as a source of meaning and stability in life

8 ways to find your spirituality – putting the word into practice for those interested

What’s your long term risk in transmitting HIV – an interesting question and some maths has been applied in this article more for those into sciences and mathematical models

And always pop onto our website www.hopecapetown.com and get the newest information on what we are doing..

Enjoy reading!

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, HOPE Cape Town Trust, Medical and Research, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Observation on a cruise

TV display on the MS Artania

TV display on the MS Artania

Being away as the chaplain for a cruise is certainly a break away from the daily duties and a welcome change in the normal work routine. But obviously it seems that HOPE Cape Town is somehow everywhere on my shoulder it does not matter where I go or travel.
Being on the MS Artania now and chatting to one of the guests I discover she is from Dresden and her son works for the “Schauspielhaus”. So there it is again: the “HOPE-connection” without even knowing each other at first.
And those who know already about my work do want to know how it is going. So one could say travelling the world and doing pastoral work for the people and marketing HOPE Cape Town goes hand in hand.
And it is true: somehow HOPE Cape Town seems to be an integral part of my life and sometimes I wonder whether I ever have the chance to escape of being sort of “Mr HOPE” one day. And the next question coming up is whether I really want this change in my life.
Giving a talk on a cruise ship about HOPE Cape Town is always a challenge. The guests present on the ship are here to enjoy a stress and worry free holiday – most haven chosen to dip into the world of cruises to have the time of their lives. Of course they are visiting different countries and automatically also hear and see the miseries of poverty and other downsides of society. And the reactions are very diverse: some romanticize, others ignore, some complain about even being exposed to it and I know of travellers who freely admit, that they don’t take cruises to Africa or South America because they don’t want to see “it”.
Here I feel my role as a chaplain can bridge the gap and when it happens, interesting discussions will follow, not only in the ‘question and answer spot” after the talk but also during the whole journey.

Filed under: HOPE Cape Town Association, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, HOPE Cape Town Trust, HOPE Gala Dresden, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , ,

HIV – curse or blessing?

For most people, on first side a pandemic is surely seen as a curse translating into sickness. In the case of HIV- without treatment – it turns into full-blown AIDS and consequently death. Who does not remember the eighties: a quick and cruel death for young people, killed in the prime of their lives.
HIV also means evolution: a small little bug jumps onto a different host and kills the host. Not intentionally of course and it will take a quite some time, maybe a couple of hundred years to develop into a symbiosis which lets bug and host live peacefully together. Otherwise it’s a dead-end for evolution and will at a certain point cease to exist.
HIV is a challenge: In the 1980’s the scientific world raced to find an answer what causes the syndrome. To isolate the bug, to find anti-bodies and consequently a test to determine infection and last but not least to develop first medications working to prevent full-blown AIDS took its time and toll. But HIV is also a challenge for every human being: transmission via bodily fluids means it touches on one of our strongest drive and urge: sexuality. And who controls this desire controls humans – just look into the history of religion and the significance of the control of sexuality via faith.
HIV mixes categories normally separated in society: youth and death. Death is anyhow so often hidden in modern society; now associated with youth and radical eradicating the beauty of it destroys the unspoken view how society works and develops. It changed the rules of engagement on that level dramatically and still does it in developing countries.
HIV means to open up to people living and loving in same sex relationships. Coming from the dark and hidden corners of social life gay people suddenly stood in the limelight of society. HIV and AIDS was part of a sometimes cruel outing process. In our days HIV is globally not anymore associated with homosexuality but the pandemic, almost as a side effect, opened up society to look at different life styles. And without any doubt the solidarity in gay circles in the beginning of the pandemic for their infected friends and partners was an impressive show of compassion and left traces which transformed into signs of normality and acceptance for gay love in the Western hemisphere. Obviously this triggers an antidote from the radical – fundamentalist side of society, mainly coming from the USA in an evangelical form even telling Africans what African culture means in Africa.
HIV is clearly a challenge for politicians and it was HIV which was put on the agenda as the first medical condition dealt with by the UN. This opened doors for other discussions on a global base like on Malaria or TB or all the other forgotten sickness of Africa and South America. We were reminded that they also kill millions a year and that they are in need of being addressed properly. The Global AIDS Fund was a first instrument of tackling a medical challenge on a global scale and not via bi-lateral negations which normally don’t’ see the full picture and are rather small –minded.
HIV means a challenge for society. While in Germany the campaign “Give AIDS no chance” with the commitment of the entire government prevented the pandemic to get into full swing, other countries and governments did not wake up to respond to the treat timely. The bible is right, that the sin of the fathers, in this case the sin of neglect comes onto the children and grandchildren. South Africa, but also Swaziland, is an example of failure with the result of hundred thousands of death and a generation born and plagued by HIV. What a challenge for the social coherence of society.
HIV translates into a challenge for religion, for our faith. Just a look at Ronald Reagan, who refused to act on the first reports of the new disease as it seemly “only” targeted gay people. His faith told him that they anyhow did not live according to God’s moral code; somehow no real action was needed. It reminds us also in this context of all those clerics calling the HIV pandemic the punishment of God for Sodom and Gomorrah in our times.
HIV is not a punishment but a clear sign of the time to reflect on our Christian theology – it has shown clearly that answering new questions with old answer do not serve humanity. The opposite is true: it endangers life. The question of protection cannot be answered with the reply given by authorities quite some time earlier on the question of procreation.
And how about the single human being infected with the HI Virus?
The challenges and reactions are as different as people are different: shock, disbelieve, despair, give–up mentality, defiance, hope….
What is indeed an almost general rule I discovered with people living positively is that after the balance in life is found again, there is a new sense for health and the value of life. HIV has shown how fragile life is and treatment has given almost the opportunity for a second chance in life. People infected mostly have a peace treaty with their boarder – always present even when tested undetectable. There is also the sense of gratitude and somehow, even if it sounds absurd, it changes from being a personal curse into a blessing. And I strongly believe that church should be and could be promoter of this transition, personal and in communities where stigma could be transformed into a blessing. The Catholic Student organisation of South Africa maintains in one of their publications that people living with HIV cannot live life to the fullest as stipulated in John 10.10.
They are wrong: God is giving everyone in his unconditional love the possibility to life their life to the fullest – for him, sexual identity or preference is not a hindrance nor is race or income or any other ability or disability or HIV or AIDS.
You will be a blessing for others – this promise of God applies to everybody who lives and loves with or without HIV.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenOctober 25th, 2014
2 months to go.

Ball of HOPE

The Ball of HOPE - our charity event in Cape TownMay 16th, 2015
9 months to go.

Stefan Hippler

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