[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The United Nations’ 21st International Aids Conference got underway yesterday (Monday) as some 18,000 delegates from 183 countries gathered in Durban, South Africa. Before it began, faith-based groups from around the world held a pre-conference meeting to discuss their approach.
UNAids say that the conference “is set to emphasise the need to build partnerships, promote community mobilization to hold leaders accountable and ensure that HIV is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“In addition, the conference will, as always, provide a showcase for experts to present new research findings, scientific developments and best practices in programme implementation.”
In the final session of the faith-based pre-conference, the participants re-committed themselves to ending HIV and Aids, and to keeping up the pressure in the face of “Aids fatigue.”
“We have the science to end HIV in five years, but we don’t have the funding,” the UNAids’s senior advisor for faith-based organizations (FBOs), Sally Smith, told the meeting. “We need FBOs and their willingness to go the extra mile. You are called to finish the task that you started.”
Smith encouraged FBOs to re-evaluate their targets and adapt to the changing face of HIV around the world. “You need to look at what you are doing. The epidemic has shifted. Have you? We need new targets — doubling the numbers on treatment; accelerating the reach of testing and ending new infections in children.”
A joint session of interfaith and Catholic pre-conferences heard the stark message that children with HIV were being failed – “targets for childcare have been missed, medication is not suitable and we still need earlier infant diagnosis with half of infants infected dying within 24 months,” the World Council of Churches said.
The deputy executive director of UNAids, Dr Luiz Loures, explained that all the UN’s targets on HIV and Aids were aimed at 2020; but had been brought forward two years for children. “Children cannot wait,” he said. “HIV is coming back and it’s more selective. It increasingly follows areas of conflict, with rape used as a weapon of war.”
Faith-based organizations tested more than four million children last year – an achievement that was praised by Dr Deborah Birx, the US government’s Aids Ambassador. “When much is done, even more is expected,” she said. “We are now at a different place and the risks are more complex.
“Girls are at risk because one-third to one-half are not in school in many countries and their first sex is forced or coerced. We need to work within communities of faith to teach that children should be able to grow up without being raped.”
- Additional reporting by the World Council of Churches. Click here to see their extensive coverage of faith-based issues and activities at Aids 2016.