Mennonites highlight three new anti-HIV strategies

By staff writers
August 23, 2006

Mennonites highlight three new anti-HIV strategies

-23/08/06

While all are still under trial, three potential new means of reducing the spread of the HIV virus emerged at the recent sixteenth International AIDS conference in Toronto, Canada, reports Sarah Adams, Mennonite Central Committeeís HIV/AIDS coordinator.

The first is a microbicide, a vaginal gel or cream that a woman can apply to reduce HIV transmission during sexual intercourse. If the development of microbicides proves successful, it will put the power of HIV protection in a woman's hands. Married women who have not slept with other people and who fully understand the risk of HIV infection can still lack the power to require her husband to use a condom, points out Adams.

Another potential means of reducing HIV transmission is through male circumcision. Initial studies in South Africa and Kenya have shown significantly reduced rates of HIV infection among men who were circumcised. But there is concern that a new myth does not emerge that circumcision eliminates risk. Christian Aid in the UK has also been exploring this question.

Pre-exposure prophylaxes were a third idea introduced. For years, post-exposure prophylaxes have been used to successfully reduce HIV transmission in cases such as rape or exposure to the virus in a medical setting. New research is showing the potential for these types of drugs prior to exposure for people that may be at high risk of contracting HIV. The concept is similar to that of taking a malarial prophylactic while visiting a malarial zone.

Along with hopeful new research and solutions came a recognition of barriers that have stopped the world from successfully addressing the AIDS crisis, says Ms Adams for the North American inter-Mennonite relief and development organisation. The role poverty plays in the global crisis was a common theme.

All over the world, global economic systems force men to leave their families for months at a time and work as migrant labourers in areas far from home. Women, in particular, dependent solely on men for their income and survival in many places, are forced into situations where their health and well-being are compromised.

Many people, especially those sick because of AIDS, lack the ability to feed themselves properly. Food insecurity is a major reason AIDS continues to make people so sick, and without sufficient food, even those on life-prolonging ARV medication are not able to receive the full benefit of the drugs.

MCC report that marginalized groups were also vocal about the often hidden epidemic in North America. The US-based Black AIDS Institute hosted discussions and marches highlighting the need to do more to address HIV/AIDS in the black community in the United States. African-American women accounted for 67% of all new infections in the US in 2004.

Aboriginal groups from Canada were also outspoken about the AIDS crisis among First Nations people, where infection rates have increased by 500 percent over the last 20 years, while the national Canadian average has decreased by 24 percent in the same time period.

As the week came to a close, organizers and participants called on governments, drug companies, churches, foundations, research institutions, individuals, and others to act immediately to prevent the further spread of the disease. Only through a timely, significant, and coordinated effort will significant progress be realized in the fight against AIDS, says Ms Adams.

Mennonite Central Committee reports from the conference are available as podcasts online. MCC also has a project called Generations At Risk.

Since 2002, MCC has made a difference in the lives of more than 10 million people affected by HIV/AIDS ó caring for people living with HIV/AIDS, supporting children orphaned by AIDS, funding prevention efforts and working to address the root causes of poverty and injustice that perpetuate the spread of the disease.

[Also on Ekklesia: Mennonites join effort to rebuild in Lebanon 17/08/06; Mennonite-backed film helps lift silence on depression 15/08/06; Mennonites see hope amid Congo struggle for democracy 10/08/06; Mennonites respond to massive Lebanese humanitarian needs 09/08/06; Mennonites call on USA and Canada to pursue non-violent alternatives 27/07/06; Mennonites issue action alert on Middle East crisis 24/07/06; Mennonites back trauma counselling in Gaza 20/07/06; Mennonites diversify peace and justice work in Washington DC; Who Are the Anabaptists: Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites by Donald B Kraybill Peace church seeks positive alternatives to military recruitment; Mennonite educationists touch global vision in Egypt; Vietnamese Mennonite church faces violent security raid; Ethiopian Mennonite leader delves into politics; European Mennonite theologians tackle violence and God]

Mennonites highlight three new anti-HIV strategies

-23/08/06

While all are still under trial, three potential new means of reducing the spread of the HIV virus emerged at the recent sixteenth International AIDS conference in Toronto, Canada, reports Sarah Adams, Mennonite Central Committeeís HIV/AIDS coordinator.

The first is a microbicide, a vaginal gel or cream that a woman can apply to reduce HIV transmission during sexual intercourse. If the development of microbicides proves successful, it will put the power of HIV protection in a woman's hands. Married women who have not slept with other people and who fully understand the risk of HIV infection can still lack the power to require her husband to use a condom, points out Adams.

Another potential means of reducing HIV transmission is through male circumcision. Initial studies in South Africa and Kenya have shown significantly reduced rates of HIV infection among men who were circumcised. But there is concern that a new myth does not emerge that circumcision eliminates risk. Christian Aid in the UK has also been exploring this question.

Pre-exposure prophylaxes were a third idea introduced. For years, post-exposure prophylaxes have been used to successfully reduce HIV transmission in cases such as rape or exposure to the virus in a medical setting. New research is showing the potential for these types of drugs prior to exposure for people that may be at high risk of contracting HIV. The concept is similar to that of taking a malarial prophylactic while visiting a malarial zone.

Along with hopeful new research and solutions came a recognition of barriers that have stopped the world from successfully addressing the AIDS crisis, says Ms Adams for the North American inter-Mennonite relief and development organisation. The role poverty plays in the global crisis was a common theme.

All over the world, global economic systems force men to leave their families for months at a time and work as migrant labourers in areas far from home. Women, in particular, dependent solely on men for their income and survival in many places, are forced into situations where their health and well-being are compromised.

Many people, especially those sick because of AIDS, lack the ability to feed themselves properly. Food insecurity is a major reason AIDS continues to make people so sick, and without sufficient food, even those on life-prolonging ARV medication are not able to receive the full benefit of the drugs.

MCC report that marginalized groups were also vocal about the often hidden epidemic in North America. The US-based Black AIDS Institute hosted discussions and marches highlighting the need to do more to address HIV/AIDS in the black community in the United States. African-American women accounted for 67% of all new infections in the US in 2004.

Aboriginal groups from Canada were also outspoken about the AIDS crisis among First Nations people, where infection rates have increased by 500 percent over the last 20 years, while the national Canadian average has decreased by 24 percent in the same time period.

As the week came to a close, organizers and participants called on governments, drug companies, churches, foundations, research institutions, individuals, and others to act immediately to prevent the further spread of the disease. Only through a timely, significant, and coordinated effort will significant progress be realized in the fight against AIDS, says Ms Adams.

Mennonite Central Committee reports from the conference are available as podcasts online. MCC also has a project called Generations At Risk.

Since 2002, MCC has made a difference in the lives of more than 10 million people affected by HIV/AIDS ó caring for people living with HIV/AIDS, supporting children orphaned by AIDS, funding prevention efforts and working to address the root causes of poverty and injustice that perpetuate the spread of the disease.

[Also on Ekklesia: Mennonites join effort to rebuild in Lebanon 17/08/06; Mennonite-backed film helps lift silence on depression 15/08/06; Mennonites see hope amid Congo struggle for democracy 10/08/06; Mennonites respond to massive Lebanese humanitarian needs 09/08/06; Mennonites call on USA and Canada to pursue non-violent alternatives 27/07/06; Mennonites issue action alert on Middle East crisis 24/07/06; Mennonites back trauma counselling in Gaza 20/07/06; Mennonites diversify peace and justice work in Washington DC; Who Are the Anabaptists: Amish, Brethren, Hutterites and Mennonites by Donald B Kraybill Peace church seeks positive alternatives to military recruitment; Mennonite educationists touch global vision in Egypt; Vietnamese Mennonite church faces violent security raid; Ethiopian Mennonite leader delves into politics; European Mennonite theologians tackle violence and God]

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