God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Balance is needed and realities appreciated

It is said that in South Africa, it is difficult to find middle ground – it is either black or white, laissez-faire or authoritarian, and looking at measures taken in the country it seems to confirm this observation. Stringent and harsh measures were announced and tried to enforce in the last days leaving behind those whose life reality is so different from those who try to prescribe them. So we saw in many township communities chaos on Friday, the first day of the lock-down: people still had to go to the shops because only when they are paid, they can go shopping. It was clear that government simply forgot to factor in reality.
Videos of aggressive reacting military without any possibility to identify them; police ordering people out of their own yard into their house with doors closed and so demonstrating that they did not understand the rules neither but also township residents defying orders and calling Covid-19 a white man’s disease demonstrated the gaps in dealing with the crisis. On the other hand: it is indeed an overwhelming task to get all citizens to understand the seriousness of this challenge.

Obviously too harsh measures will backfire – and it is noted that e.g. the sale of cigarettes is now allowed in supermarkets – there is no meaning in keeping a smoker 21 days without cigarettes and expect him to feel relaxed at home during lock-down. Government must and should fine-tune measures, but obviously having problematic ministers like Cele running partly the show will make this a challenge for the nation. Especially in a township environment where people really have to struggle every day to survive measures must be coherent, but also understandable and manageable for those living there.
In a situation like ours it would also be good if the President himself is able to reassure the nation on a regular base – people here simply listening rather to him than to compromised ministers or head of departments. State capture has destroyed quite some trust into state organs and this should not be underestimated. It also has widened the gap between those who have or are in charge and those whose life has not changed a lot in the last years still remaining under the poverty line.

There is another aspect which seems important – giving out the figures of confirmed testing does only tell half of the story as we know the virus can come and go without needing hospitalization.  We need antibody tests to find out how many people are already immune and survived the virus without major consequences.  We know that children and younger people are less likely to develop tough symptoms. So knowing the infection rate, but also the immunisation rate can give important indications for the future handling of the pandemic.  It also helps to give people a perspective of what to expect in the next months to come. As important the update of current status is, important is also to give citizens a realistic hope and with that a goal to achieve jointly as society.

Finding a balance after a good start, appreciating realities and work with them – we will see what the next days might bring on fine-tuning measures, transparency in communication and also some more training for SAPS and SANDF so that the service with humility, the president spoke about, becomes a reality. In days like these citizens put their trust in government by allowing the curtailing of civil rights – alone this must be reason of careful consideration how to progress in the fight against Covid-19 in South Africa.

Filed under: Africa, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

Covid-19 warriors

Judging social media it seems that quite a handful of people are sitting in ordered or self-imposed quarantine and favour the social media world with their plights, tribulations and realizations – like warriors in a battle, not shying away from posting all the horror headlines and predictions making their sacrifice of self-containment even more worthwhile. Watching streamed TV from Germany every real and wannabe star feels the urge to post videos with the “I am ok” messages as if the world is really desperately waiting for it.
It reminds me of the many World Aids Conferences, where the only badge to wear and being applauded for is for many speakers to be HIV positive.
I never got it, and I am not sure I get it now.

We know that 60-70% of the population will be infected by the virus and for most of them, it will be like the normal flu or even less, the virus will pass by – especially young people and this might be the blessing for South Africa. A different story are the elderly and those whose immune system is already strong compromised – and here solidarity is needed to protect them. But is this not something what should be normal to do? Without big words and gestures?

As Africans, the principal of ubuntu, the knowledge that there is a dependency which grants life to be lived to the fullest spells already out to have that practical compassion and avoid any situation where the most vulnerable are being brought into the danger zone. Here again, this African spirit of connectivity could be an example for the rest of the world demonstrating values which might have to be gained and learned again in other countries. The implicitness of solidarity and compassion is a gift this continent, which produced the first humans could pass on to the world.

Covid-19 is a chance to get back to our roots of humanity – and the pure fact that normal human behaviour has to be pointed out – or even in Europe more and more enforced –  shows how much the world has lost its moral compass. Covid-19 will come and go – and it is up to us to learn the lessons provided to us – every threat is also a challenge. So let’s pass this test, score all positive points possible and together make the world a better place.

 

Filed under: Africa, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , ,

Observations in the times of Corona

Amazing times indeed – having to cut short a 4-week trip is something one does not do light-hearted, but the ever escalating events and restrictions are of a level never seen in my lifetime.

Pondering for days to cancel the US part of it – and then decision taken out of my hands by the US authorities. Meetings cancelled and those still happening are at distance – 1.5 m and no physical contact allowed. And don’t cough when in public spaces: anxious eyes are immediately following you, having identified you as the source of the closer coming infection. Business people with suit and surgical gloves are interesting trend setters – and the everywhere mask which has a zero effect but a feel good component of “I am doing something”.

In Germany there seems to be the threat of no toilet paper palpable – and noodles – not sure how this goes together, but I am still investigating the mysterious link between the two. Airlines change flight times and cancel flights on a regular base – it is almost triggering unease when leaving Berlin this morning and everything was done in time without changes.

But serious: I see this experience as a very healthy one – it cuts you down to normal seize again and it is hopefully a lesson for human mankind, that we are part of something much bigger, but not the masters of the universe or at least this planet and this creation. The situation gives us the chance to readjust our value system and recalibrate what is important and who is important in our life.

Nor political or financial system is able to overcome such a reminder of humility alone – we are all in the same boat – and while many display symptoms of either pure ignorance or great panic – disseminating all info on social media without even thinking to use brain cells – there are the first signs of a change of hearts and minds: “Entschleunigung” is one of the German buzz words – going slower, having more time to think and to reflect, having more time for family and friends, rediscovering values and appreciation of those around us. We need each other – we are not competition but in it together. I guess especially the latter is more a lesson to be learned by the European and US American population. We Africans might be able to contribute our “ubuntu” to these new discoveries – in a new way being heard and listened to – and not only laughed at as those having missed the bus.

Corona is a lesson to learn – and I can only hope and pray that human mankind comes out of this crisis more humble, more considerable and more decent – paving the way for more humanity and a deeper sense of being – being part of something bigger we all strive to understand in one way or the other.

We are all on the way – the mystery of where we come from and where we go to still remains and all the bugs, all the bacteria and virus are part of our journey. I am sure it all will make sense at the end…  but for the time being, I am happy just to acknowledge that the mere fact has unsettled our way of living, our way of working and the way we see and experience the world.

Filed under: Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , ,

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

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