Faith groups have a key role to play in AIDS fight, says adviser

By Ecumenical News International
December 2, 2009

In preparation for World AIDS Day yesterday (1 December 2009), Kenyans living with HIV gathered at Nairobi's All Saints Anglican cathedral to send 10,000 Thanksgiving Day postcards to US President Barack Obama - writes Fredrick Nzwili.

The cards express gratitude for Obama's support to the Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, while urging the American president to take a lead in ensuring increased funding for the initiative.

At the 26 November ceremony, the cards were given to Warren Buckingham, the Kenya country coordinator for the US President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, who is to deliver them to Washington DC.

Buckingham stressed the importance of faith-based groups in the fight against HIV and AIDS in an interview with Ecumenical News International following the event.

In Africa, he noted, faith-based institutions provide much of the healthcare infrastructure. In Kenya, between 35 and 40 percent of antiretroviral drugs for the treatment of HIV are distributed through mission hospitals.

Still, faith groups often have to change the way they think about those living with HIV, Buckingham said.

"From the beginning, not just here in Kenya, but around the world, part of the response of the faith-based institutions has been to judge those who are infected," he said. "Their responses need to change to embrace compassion, reflect the reality of where people live and their daily struggles for survival."

Also in Nairobi, the All Africa Conference of Churches pointed to the need to "recognise gender dynamics that make women more vulnerable to sexual gender violence, which fuels the spread of HIV".

The Church, it said, ahead of the 21st World AIDS Day, needed to "engage with retrogressive traditions such as female genital mutilation and early marriages in order to liberate and empower all members of the church".

The statement, signed by AACC General Secretary the Rev André Karamaga, said that churches needed to advocate for the right of all people to access HIV and AIDS-related services, including prevention, treatment, care and support.

In a statement issued in Geneva, Christian leaders in the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) urged that there should be no let up in expanding treatment and prevention services to deal with HIV and AIDS, after statistics showed a decline in new infections over the past eight years.

"The statistics are a testament to the effectiveness of treatment and a concerted response to tackle the epidemic," said the Rev Ishmael Noko, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation.

"This should motivate us further to continue to expand treatment and achieve access to comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for all women, men and children," he said.

The 2009 AIDS Epidemic Update, released by UNAIDS, the United Nations programme on HIV and AIDS, and the World Health Organisation, showed that new HIV infections have been reduced by 17 per cent since 2001.

Data also showed that there are more people living with HIV than ever before as people are living longer due to the beneficial effects of antiretroviral therapy and population growth. However, the number of AIDS-related deaths has declined by more than 10 per cent over the past five years as more people gained access to treatment.

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance is an international network of more than 50 churches and Christian organisations committed to joint action on critical issues facing the world.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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