God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Nobody left behind..

The Melbourne Declaration is the final document of the World AIDS Conference 2014 in Melbourne / Australia. In the times of discrimination and stigmatization but also criminalization especially in African countries it is important to reflect on the aspects being able to give birth to a HIV free generation. A declaration is only as potent as the implementation after the event:

AIDS 2014 Melbourne Declaration
We gather in Melbourne, the traditional meeting place of the Wurundjeri, Boonerwrung, Taungurong, Djajawurrung and the Wathaurung people, the original and enduring custodians of the lands that make up the Kulin Nation, to assess progress on the global HIV response and its future direction, at the 20th International AIDS Conference, AIDS 2014. We, the signatories and endorsers of this Declaration, affirm that non-discrimination is fundamental to an evidence-based, rights-based and gender transformative response to HIV and effective public health programmes.
To defeat HIV and achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support – nobody should be criminalized or discriminated against because of their gender, age, race, ethnicity, disability, religious or spiritual beliefs, country of origin, national status, sexual orientation, gender identity, status as a sex worker, prisoner or detainee, because they use or have used illicit drugs or because they are living with HIV.
We affirm that all women, men, transgender and intersex adults and children are entitled to equal rights and to equal access to HIV prevention, care and treatment information and services. The promotion of gender equity is essential to HIV responses that truly meet the needs of those most affected. Additionally, people who sell or who have sold sex, and people who use, or who have used illicit drugs are entitled to the same rights as everyone else, including non-discrimination and confidentiality in access to HIV care and treatment services.
We express our shared and profound concern at the continued enforcement of discriminatory, stigmatizing, criminalizing and harmful laws which lead to policies and practices that increase vulnerability to HIV. These laws, policies, and practices incite extreme violence towards marginalized populations, reinforce stigma and undermine HIV programmes, and as such are significant steps backward for social justice, equality, human rights and access to health care for both people living with HIV and those people most at risk of acquiring the virus.
In over 80 countries, there are unacceptable laws that criminalize people on the basis of sexual orientation. All people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people are entitled to the same rights as everyone else. All people are born free and equal and are equal members of the human family.
Health providers who discriminate against people living with HIV or groups at risk of HIV infection or other health threats, violate their ethical obligations to care for and treat people impartially. We therefore call for the immediate and unified opposition to these discriminatory and stigmatizing practices and urge all parties to take a more equitable and effective approach through the following actions:
• Governments must repeal repressive laws and end policies that reinforce discriminatory and stigmatizing practices that increase the vulnerability to HIV, while also passing laws that actively promote
equality.

• Decision makers must not use international health meetings or conferences as a platform to promote discriminatory laws and policies that undermine health and wellbeing.
• The exclusion of organisations that promote intolerance and discrimination including sexism, homophobia, and transphobia against individuals or groups, from donor funding for HIV programmes.
• All healthcare providers must demonstrate the implementation of non-discriminatory policies as a prerequisite for future HIV programme funding.
• Restrictions on funding, such as the anti-prostitution pledge and the ban on purchasing needles and syringes, must be removed as they actively impede the struggle to combat HIV, sexually transmitted
infections, and hepatitis C among sex workers and people who inject drugs.

• Advocacy by all signatories to this Declaration for the principles of inclusion, non-criminalization, non-discrimination, and tolerance.
In conclusion we reaffirm our unwavering commitment to fairness, to universal access to health care and treatment services, and to support the inherent dignity and rights of all human beings. All people are entitled to the rights and protections afforded by international human rights frameworks.
An end to AIDS is only possible if we overcome the barriers of criminalization, stigma and discrimination that remain key drivers of the epidemic.

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

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sometimes it hurts… Another day @ the conference

Today, the second day of the conference, is my focal point more on HIV and faith-based organizations. So the day starts early with an interview for the Catholic “domradio” in Cologne. Next to networking with people of this field I also read some comments about the conference and one got my attention immediately. It is written by Dr P. B. and published not only on his blog but also on the internet news of kath.net, a more right-wing Catholic news website in the German language.
The headline “what really helps against new infections” got as said my attention and already the first sentence of the article gave the answer: “With the simple approach to live chaste till marriage and then be faithful to the partner within marriage 99% of all risk factors are eliminated”.
Wow, I thought really impressive. And I guess with a similar strategy can we can empty our prisons as everybody has to remain honest and non-violent instead of stealing or murdering someone and the problem is 99% solved. The logic of the article culminates in the argument, that people become infected because they don’t listen to the pope – and mentions Africa and specially Catholic areas on the continent where such prevention work has great success.

Such argumentation makes me speechless, but I was comforted through a podium in the afternoon where a pastor from Malawi told us about his experience in seeing HIV and AIDS as a challenge to come out of our comfort zones church normally provides and to give answers needed ending stigma and discrimination. He also was very critical of certain forms of development aid European or US style: “Africans can think of their own” , so the pastor and the audience underlined it with laughter and applause. An US American pastors wife told us from her experience working in Rwanda and a Thai monk about the great work, he is doing on the level of interfaith. He and his fellow clergyman, monks and imams are also looking for those caring for people living with HIV and AIDS. A humbling experience just to listen how those people gave witness about their calling to get involved in the battle against the pandemic.

This is what we need in our churches, mosques, synagogues and temples: people who believe honestly that HIV and AIDS is a challenge, not only for a personal life, but for the way we believe, we pray, we worship, we see our brothers and sisters. Yes, we need those people in our churches, mosques, synagogues and temples who are not afraid to open up, network beyond the borders of faith and denomination or religion. We need people who are simply not afraid to listen to their calling which overcomes human boundaries and is driven by the unconditional love towards their fellow neighbors.

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, Networking, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Obamacare, turn the tide and enthusiasm @ AIDS Conference

Sometimes it is only one speech, one moment in time, and one can feel energized again. Sometimes it is just one speech, one moment in time and all tiredness is gone and one starts to focus again. For me, this moment in time happened this morning at the Plenary Session of the World AIDS Conference. Still tired from the long journey I listened to three keynote speaker which really got my mind going.

Introduced by the Nobel Price Laureate Francoise Barre-Sinoussi from France who was instrumental in discovering the HI virus, the Director of the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health (USA), Anthony S Fauci gave an overview where we are standing in the moment and why we are close to turning the tide of HIV/AIDS. He caught the attention of the audience in describing how sciences and community approach must go together and laid grounds how all facets of prevention and treatment, outreach and bio-approach can take the next steps in eradicating HIV and giving a whole new generation a chance to grow up without the treat of the pandemic.

Next was Phill Wilson, CEO of the Black AIDS Institute in Washington – black, gay and HIV positive. His charismatic speech described the plight of black Americans – specially also in the Washington area, where the prevalence rate amongst those with dark skin color are as high as in some areas of South Africa. He made it also very clear to the audience what “Obama-care” means for those US Americans without an expensive health insurance. I felt ashamed listening to his very personal stories thinking that the US American Catholic Bishops attacked the new health care system because amongst others family planing is included in Obama’s approach. Was there ever a thought of balancing all the “Catholic question marks” against the benefits for those, whose lives or deaths are depending on this new law?

Next Hillary R Clinton, who delivered a clear message that after 25 years and the last World AIDS Conference held in the USA in San Francisco her country is now more than ever committed to turn the tide and assist in having a next generation without fear of HIV and AIDS. She also declared her very solidarity to Melinda Gates and announced additional funds of her government for family planing but also circumcision and other projects.

All speakers the morning made it clear that the moment has come to combine all efforts to push the syndrome back, to use all tools to reduce the transmission to the magic “zero”. But also all acknowledged that there will be still quite some time till this goal is reached. But until then, those lesser and lesser in number, who get infected in the coming generation, should be able to receive treatment and support without any discrimination or stigmatization. And it was made clear that this means that all involved from community outreach via faith-based organizations till governments to reflect how one deals with those most in danger of contracting HIV: gay people, drug addicts, prostitutes. And the question remained open during the rest of the session as a challenge to all concerned: What does it mean to go into those fields many people feel uncomfortable to speak about? And specially for me as a Catholic priest remains that question: How do we deal with those moral minefields in today’s atmosphere of theology and pastoral care?

A lot to think of for the first day of the conference and the day has not ended yet…

Turning the tide – now..

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

21.07.2010 Thoughts about Vienna and the International AIDS Conference

In two days the International AIDS Conference is history again and I am sure once again we will not have reached the goal of the conference as it has been also the case for the previous conferences. Who does not remember the “Access for all” slogan -to be reached by 2010.. We have 2010 and even as we have made great progress.. we have a long way to go to reach the “Access for all – Treatment for all” goal.

Bill Clinton made it in his speech clear that in the times, where financial promises are emptied by the so-called circumstances that on the other hand too many people fly to too many conferences. I must admit that I am often also amazed how many people attending from one organisation and how many see such conferences as their chance to go on an oversea trip. I am not sure that the way, the conference is organised and the millions on sponsor money is spent to fly people from so many different backgrounds to one venue – the lady looking after a vegetable project and the highly skilled researcher – and when I see the first sitting in a talk given by the latter:  not sure it makes sense or has any meaning.
On the other hand, yes, it is an opportunity to network, seen and be seen and somehow I have the impression, lots of small NGO”s draw part of their pride to have a stall at the Global Village and some photographic memories. And this has its own rights, as many for the first time understand the scale of engagement worldwide.

So I don’t have plan B to suggest how to organise such a conference in a way which does not waste too much sponsor money – lack of resources let people die..  and we as activists cannot blame pharmaceutical companies and politicians if we don’t reflect on how we organise ourselves.

The main topic this time is human rights and HIV / AIDS. There is indeed a lot to do. And here are also the churches asked to contribute more, they see themselves in our days as advocates for human rights, but here it gets tricky: gender equality, homosexuality, sexual behaviour and culture are only some to the topics which make it difficult for some churches to engage in a more decisive way for the good of those, whose human rights are at stake.

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

14th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenNovember 16th, 2019
31 days to go.

Ball of HOPE 2020

Join us @ The Westin in Cape TownMay 23rd, 2020
7 months to go.
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