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, , , , , , , , , ,

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

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