PUTTING FAITH AT WORK TO HALT THE SPREAD OF HIV
World Council of Churches - News
24 March 2010 - With a new sense of urgency in view of a pandemic that grows
exponentially, high level figures from many of the world's faiths
have committed to exercise "stronger, more visible and practical
leadership" in response to HIV, with an emphasis on eradicating
the stigma and discrimination towards those affected.
"I am convinced that my faith must be more visible and active to
halt the spread of HIV and reverse this pandemic", reads a
"personal commitment to action" signed by some 40 Baha'i,
Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh participants
at a global Summit of High Level Religious Leaders that took
place in the Netherlands from 22-23 March.
The signatories promised to work "tirelessly to end all
stigmatizing attitudes and actions until people living with HIV
are fully included in our religious communities and societies".They also committed to engage in a meaningful way with people
living with HIV, protect human rights, influence decision makers
and collaborate with leaders from different faiths.
The summit was attended by the executive directors of two United
Nations agencies, the Joint Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS)
and the Population Fund (UNFPA). The AIDS ambassadors of the
Netherlands and Sweden, and representatives of networks of people
living with HIV and of organizations active in the response to
HIV participated as well.
In a separate statement, participants called for "universal
access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support". They also
called for "a massive social mobilization to prevent vertical
transmission of HIV from parent to child".
During the three decades passed since the Human Immunodeficiency
Virus was first identified, AIDS has led to the deaths of over 25
million people. Today, more than 30 million live with the virus.
Differences in access to treatment with modern and expensive
antiretroviral drugs laid bare gross inequalities, nationally and
globally. The current economic climate combined with "AIDS
fatigue" among media, policy and other decision-makers
jeopardizes the progress that has been made.
However, the pandemic "grows exponentially", said the
participants at the summit. "For every two people put on
treatment there are another five newly infected." Among the
reasons for this are "secrecy and silence", which keep vulnerable
populations from accessing prevention services, testing and
treatment. "We must work to end the silence", they added.
"Stigma makes AIDS a silent killer"
"The stigma associated with HIV and AIDS has been like that of
no other disease", said Abune Paulos, patriarch of the Ethiopian
Orthodox Tewahedo Church, speaking at the summit. "Stigma and
discrimination help make AIDS a silent killer, because people
fear the social disgrace of speaking about it", added the
patriarch, who is a president of the World Council of Churches
For Abune Paulos, "religious leaders have a lot of assignments
left undone. They themselves are not willing to talk about the
HIV-related stigma and discrimination".
"We need to revisit the traditions of our respective religious
institutions and engage ourselves more than ever in this regard",
said the patriarch.
The Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC,
stressed the need for accountability in responding to the HIV
pandemic. "HIV is an issue of human relationships, an issue of
accountability", he said. Listening to those "who are vulnerable,
even stigmatized", is the best way to "learn what accountability
to the creator of all human beings means", added Tveit.
In revisiting religious traditions, accountability means to
ponder the consequences of how their holy scriptures have been
used. "We cannot erase or change historical texts, but we have to
decide - and be accountable for - how we are using them."
For the Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega, from the Presbyterian-Reformed
Church in Cuba and the WCC president from the Latin American and
Caribbean region, the response to the HIV cannot ignore the
social and economic context of the pandemic.
"The message that we hear coming from the Latin American and the
Caribbean is that people affected by the HIV do not only need
compassion, but justice", she said. This call for justice means
that responding to the HIV entails to struggle for the human
rights of the people affected, including their right "to live, to
work, to walk amongst us without being discriminated".
The summit was organized by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance and
Cordaid, a Dutch Catholic relief and development agency. It was
supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UNAIDS, the
International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or
Personally Affected by HIV or AIDS (INERELA+), the World AIDS
Campaign and the European Council of Religious Leaders (Religions
The co-chairs of the event were Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of
the Art of Living Foundation; Rabbi David Rosen, director of
Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee;
Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, general secretary of the World YWCA; and
the Right Rev. Gunnar Stålsett, bishop emeritus of the Church of
WCC work for an HIV-competent church
WCC general secretary's intervention on "Mutual Accountability - People and Communities of Faith Living with HIV "http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/general-secretary/speeches/religious-leadership-in-response-to-hiv.html
The statement of the Summit of High Level religious Leaders and the participants' "personal commitment to action" are available on thewebsite of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance http://www.e-alliance.ch/en/s/hivaids/summit-of-high-level-religious-leaders/background-documents-for-the-media/
Listen to WCC president from the Latin American and Caribbean region, Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega http://www.oikoumene.org/fileadmin/files/wcc-main/sounds/2010/OfeliaOrtega7min30.mp3, speaking (in Spanish) about the resources offered by the Christian faith to respond to the HIV pandemic, the role and obstacles for the faith community, her personal commitment and the role of the youth [7min30].
The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith,
witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical
fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings
together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches
representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110
countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic
Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit,
from the [Lutheran] Church of Norway. Headquarters: Geneva,
World Council Of Churches
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Source: Worldwide Faith News