God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

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

23.07.2010 Cutting the money

During the World AIDS Conference in Vienna, more news broke that amongst others Germany intends to cut the money contribution to the Global AIDS Fund.
According to Prof Jeffery Sachs from the Earth Institute of the Columbia University, Germany has broken several promises in the past and for him, the decision to cut donations would be shocking. In an interview published in “Die Welt” (Friday, 23.July 2010 page 4) he reminded the reader that Germany has promised in 2002 to donate for developing aid 7% of the GDP. In 2005 Germany promised with the G8 to double the aid for Africa until 2020 and to allow access for all to the HAART treatment. The Global Funds are organised to put the promises into practise. We know by know that the promises not materialize.
Prof. Sachs put it into perspective: The Global Fund would need 3 billion US Dollar – a lot of money; but compared to the 15 billion spend by the NATO in Afghanistan it seems to be a decent amount.

It the news of cutting down the donations towards are true, there is a second threat coming from the responsible German Minister Niebler. He favours bi-lateral assistance instead of multilateral fonds. I am sure every activist with some internal knowledge about bi-lateral assistance knows that this is tricky and very subjective. Prof. Sachs maintains that only global fonds guarantee optimal and objective use of the funds distributed.

I must admit knowing and reading about the amounts our politicians used and use to help the financial institutions, to support the war in Afghanistan or to bail or Greece it is an ethical disgrace to cut funding in the moment when we are on the way to reach treatment access for all and so add a preventive tool to our arsenal assisting to combat HIV/AIDS. And it seems that the lives of those in the developing countries once again count for nothing. Or as Prof. Sachs coins it: If Germany would cut funding it would be ” unscrupulous” .

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HIV Treatment, Politics and Society, , , , , , ,

22.07.2010 and more contemplations on the World AIDS Conference in Vienna

Discussion this morning with several people about our experience with the World AIDS Conference this year. The quality of the presentations was one discussion point. It came to mind a presentation about research work with commercial sex workers in an African country. The well-funded research’s conclusion was that a. there must be more research and b. that commercial sex workers are in need of special interventions.
Well, I am sure I would come to this conclusions without any research study – lots of money saved for more deserving purposes. Follow up questions: Who is monitoring and evaluation the proposals and giving the go-ahead for such research? Or was the presentation itself the week point?  General question: Is there somehow not the self inventing and containing wheel of research out of research for the purpose of research and justifying the own existence in this field?

Some presentations I heard have not really changed over the years: the same countries, the same sort of overflowing Power Point presentations, squeezing as many words as possible on one slide – have there be no developments in these countries/fields/outreach programmes?

It was good to see and hear about the GUS countries and problems in Russian speaking countries – for contents, but also for the sole purpose to bring new faces and a new dynamic to the conference.

Once again the lack of the engagement of official churches which are doing a big part of the work in this field was noticable. Additional the prayer room /room of silence was – and I apologise already here if I step on someones toes – a disgrace in itself. I was shocked to see it.

But after all this criticism also positive aspects of the conference: One always learns something, the exchange with people around the world, the sideline sessions, one sometimes bumps into going through the Global Village – excellent presentations I have seen and heard there . The dedication of the people standing  next to their poster presentations to answer questions or standing for hours in their respective boot to engage with the visitors – they all have my respect.
Some presentations have been standing – and one can learn that even academics are indeed able to present a complicated issue in a way that at least a non medical person gets the picture, paired with some anecdotes to make you smile in between.
My experience of the registration process was great – recalling the long queues of Toronto….

I have been reminded once again how the pandemic has changed the world and how brave men and women, infected and affected fight it with affection and with so much empathy for those who have no voice in this world.

Encouraging research (one would always hope for more), optimism paired with realism – setting goals and going home with the dream and the will to work hard to achieve it. At the end the experience at such a big conference is always mixed, but: I was privileged to be here, I am grateful for all the experience and I already have an idea about 2012 in Washington.

Which means in conclusion: The conference has still a meaning for me, but we have to streamline and look out, the we watch out to use our financial resources meaningful and that “politics” do not interfere with the judgement of who is able to present and share experience and knowledge.

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

04.11.2009 Farewell thoughts

Sitting at Frankfurt airport I can feel the how tired I am and how much I am looking forward to sleep while flying back to Cape Town. I will be happy to be back home again.

For 16 days I toured through Germany with a detour to Rome, I have had meetings, planing workshop, planing meeting, one2one meetings, telephone meetings, talks – I saw round about a 1000 people in those days – statistics can be interesting. Plans are made until 2013 – I feel the manager syndrome arriving on my doorsteps, but I guess many people are telling me that since years. The Ecumenical church day, the world aids conference, the Bundespositivenkonferenz, the world awareness campaign part two, the exhibition at the Charite Museum, a film project, quite some invitations, amongst them to speak also about economy and ethics as well as how to achieve a value system for one’s own life, motivational talks – the visit of bishops to bring the idea of the pastoral care for positive clergy via bishops conferences to Rome – I am this evening indeed sure that there will be no dull moment in my life for the next years to come. And I thought it will take time to find enough work in my new working environment

HOPE Cape Town will be re-structured a bit – new offices, partly changed job descriptions – the Catholic Aids Networks registration as a NPO and PBO and I guess also there is some restructuring necessary – I still have to write a contribution to a book published by the University of Trier – writing down for me all the “still have to do” list is frightening and challenging at the same time. But I am in a good spirit that all can be done, seeing all the marvellous colleagues giving a hand and taking a lead with me.

Next week we will have our management and planing meeting from HOPE Cape Town and then I will report back in detail and we will plan for the new year ahead. Despite my tiredness I can feel the dynamics of networking – the possibilities lying ahead and I once again don’t understand the stand of many NGO’s which are so protective of their work and see most others as competition rather than a completion to their own work. This year I have seen some naughty incidents were other NGO’s were not afraid to try to lure away sponsors on our very own events. There are still so many feathers to earn in South Africa – and there are also so many willing sponsors if you have a good programme – there is no need to fight each other for anything.


Filed under: General, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, Networking, Reflection, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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