God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensée of a Catholic priest

IAS conference 2017

Fragments of thoughts and impressions

It is my first IAS conference I have attended and compared with the World Aids conference it is a smaller crowd: round about 6000 people from all over the world coming in Paris together to discuss developments in the fields of HIV and Aids.

The first impression is that the conference is much more academic and discerning – it feels that most talks and presentations are indeed on a much higher academic level then at local Aids Conferences or the big world conference.

I am staying at a hotel outside Paris in Nanterre a commune in the Hauts-de-Seine department, the western suburbs of Paris. It is located some 11 km north-west of the centre of Paris. It feels strange – and from the beginning I can feel people have to live in a way which does not support human interaction – it feels cold, just doing the job of housing people without consideration on the human desire to live in a nice and friendly environment. It’s a sort of shock for somebody living in South Africa – it is strange but it feels like as soul-less place. The hotel is situated on top of a commuter train tunnel and station – every now and then one can feel the coming and going of a train while laying in bed.
So I guess all is there to sustain living and working, there are high rising buildings and all kind of services, but the thought I take with is that I can understand such suburbs create problems and even violence.

The mix of people here is amazing – mostly and certainly from the African region of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco – it feels non-European in a European way – figure it out what it means.

And travelling to the conference centre – using the train and the metro – being part of a huge crowd in the morning and evening entering and exiting the dark alleys of the underground world – being part of the endless movements of people pushing their way through the crowd to reach their daily destiny – it is breath-taking – but not in the usual sense of the word. I definitely recall all my blessings living with some space and lots of day light in South Africa.

The conference itself is for a non scientific person sometimes difficult to follow – but I guess it is not about the exact details of every molecule one has to understand, the sheer feeling of understanding the principle – the idea behind all the details – the sometimes keen thoughts and trials and errors are a fascinating mental adventure – it stimulates my brain and forces me to read and study and “google”  – I have to admit that is a great experience to be beamed for a while into an environment really challenging you on knowledge and understanding.
But I believe that people running organisations must have at least a grasp about the background work done and the driving forces behind new developments before they reach the grass-root scene to be put into practice. Fruitful communication, bridging the gap between science and grass-root as HOPE Cape Town is trying to achieve on a daily base means for those in charge constant learning and communication with all spheres of their work environment.

Last but not least it was great meeting people from other countries and engaging in discussions – learning from each other and about each other and feeling the compassion of trying to rid the world of a viral onslaught. And yes, there is of course also lots of business – lots of calculation, but even there, you very often sense that those being employed in the big pharmaceutical companies understand that there is humanity needed in business. The connectivity of the global village, the threat that a virus can easily come and bite those far away helped indeed to change some of the attitudes which governed such entities a decade ago. Surely there is still lots to optimize and clarify – a balance must be put into place between commerce and humanity but I guess the battles of treatment have brought some clarity and movement into the field. Well, a watchful eye seems to be always necessary when it comes to that topic.

I will leave Paris tomorrow with lots of new understanding about the work done in the laboratories of this world. I leave proud knowing that our very board member of HOPE Cape Town, Prof Mark Cotton co-chaired the CHER study which produced one of the most published results of the conference: the child for 9 years in remission after being treated as a baby. I leave motivated knowing how many people dedicated their lives and career to fight back a pandemic which brought so much death and sorrow onto human mankind. It simply feels great to be part of a movement which has the goal to end a pandemic and give people a chance to live life and sexuality without fear. To live and to love to the utmost in their lifetime.

The only question I was wondering – how many other priests or clergy have been to this conference – not that it really matters but it would be nice to know that more of my fellow brothers are engaged on this level in a matter of live and death for millions in this world.

 

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

World Aids Day 2016

o-world-aids-day-facebook“Leadership. Commitment. Impact” so the slogan for the World Aids Day 2016 which the world will celebrate coming week. Signs are already visible – newspapers and magazines are publishing more and more stories about HIV and AIDS, marketing prescribes for many products and messages the red ribbon – and as always on the 2nd of December some reviews will end the frenzy and hype around the pandemic. The world is getting quiet again till next year same time.

“Leadership. Commitment. Impact” – when I look around the world in our days – there is neither responsible leadership nor commitment prominently visible. The global village is rather falling apart in nations of own interest again, in the USA a racist and misogynist is elected president, in Turkey there is a dictator in the making and right-wing politicians worldwide gain popularity by only looking to create walls and distances between people. In South Africa President Zuma and the ruling party miss the boat of leadership completely and run the country into the ground if it continues like this.

Maybe we expect leadership and commitment from the wrong people and parties. Looking at the AIDS pandemic we can learn that leadership did not come from those in power. US President Reagan did everything possible to ignore the pandemic, church leaders – and some until today – were calling it the punishment of God – no, leadership came from those who were at the margins of society – in this case the gay people who organized in a committed way resistance against ignorance, demanded public attention and at the same time cared with passion and compassion about those about to lose their lives in mainly young age. Those, who were criminalized, ostracized, punished and outlawed fought the fight and brought at the end even a global political body like the UN to dedicate a meeting on a pandemic – a first in the history of the entity.

HIV and Aids brought so the attention of the global village not only to its own plight, but other sicknesses torturing those living in Africa and other far away areas as seen from Europe and the USA came under the spotlight. Even a global fond was established – another first in this regard. Maybe it needs a drama of that magnitude to bring people together – to let them forget about their own interests only and to realize the interconnections of human mankind and creation as such.
HIV and Aids are not sexy anymore – medication has stopped the immediate carnage and prolonged life in theory for all, in practice mainly for those able to afford it. Looking at the figures we see that too many people don’t have access to treatment and the infection rates are climbing disturbingly in some countries again while others – like South Africa – remain stuck on a high level. The Global Fund is struggling to maintain its impact as countries don’t honor their commitments or paying less and less believing the pandemic is under control. Looking at other viral and bacterial diseases we know that this is false hope. Life is a bitch – and evolution at work and if we don’t watch out, chances are high that we see reruns of battles we thought we have won long ago.

I wish that World Aids Day 2016 is more than just a reminder of the plight of HIV positive people. I hope that this day also serves as a beacon of hope that leadership is coming back, commitment is not only pledged but practiced – and not only in handing out medication or testing people, but also to create a surroundings and environment that let people living with HIV live without discrimination and with proper access to treatment and care in a peaceful setting. The global village needs an urgent reminder in our days that we respectfully need each other to create a future where diseases are healed, pandemics are maintained, not only those of the body but also of the hearts and souls and minds of people.

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HOPE Cape Town is working in a holistic way to give young people living with HIV and related illnesses hope and a future.
www.hopecapetown.com / www.hopecapetownusa.com

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

The Berlin Patient – cured or not cured?

Maybe you have heard about the so-called “Berlin” patient who has been cured of HIV. Or maybe not? What is actually happening with him and what does it mean for the research? Are we close to find the key to win over the battle? Please read here more about this interesting case.

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HIV Treatment, Medical and Research, , , , , , ,

Only Southern Africa?

There is a perception that Southern Africa is the only hot spot of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  But Eastern Europe and Central Asia have the world’s fastest-growing HIV epidemic according to the World Health Organization. It is said the epidemic there is concentrated mostly among injection drug users. Experts blame punitive drug policies, discrimination and trouble accessing treatment. They say the situation will not be contained until local governments affected by the epidemic change their AIDS policies. To read more click here.

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

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

12th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenOctober 28th, 2017
8 days to go.

Ball of HOPE 2018

Join us @ The Westin in Cape TownMay 12th, 2018
6 months to go.

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© Rev Fr Stefan Hippler and HIV, AIDS and HOPE.
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