International AIDS conference ignites momentum for the end of AIDS.
The X1X International AIDS conference in Washington DC ended this week on an optimistic note calling for an “AIDS free generation”.
Michel Sidibe, Executive director of UNAIDS said “we have broken the trajectory of new infections with a worldwide decline of 20% since 2001, young people are leading the HIV Revolution and AIDS related deaths have fallen from 1.8 million in 2005 to 1.2 million today.”
Exciting new developments in the race for a cure were announced as reports emerged that scientists have in some cases been able to replace HIV infected cells with healthy ones. Proff. Steven Deeks from the university of California said, “ we have now reached the stage when research moves from the laboratory to the clinic”. Co-worker, Nobel Laurete, Francois Barre Sinoussi, who discovered the HIV virus, acknowledged that there were ethical problems in the research, which is known to involve testing toxic drugs on humans, but concluded, “there is now a realistic possibility of a cure and the time is right - we might regret never having tried”.
Faith based communities were applauded for their work in ending AIDS by many high level speakers from US president’s to political and medical leaders. Kay Warren spoke of Saddleback church’s HIV “Peace Plan” in Rwanda and said, “We can't put faith in governments and funders because they are liable to change. The church will still be there when the money runs out. We don’t use a financial model; it’s about the local church initiating the work".
Peter Prove, Director of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance cautioned; “the church is about transformational change. ARV drugs will take us so far, but we need to see attitudinal and moral change. Some see us as an obstacle and we need to work harder on providing data and evidence to measure the impact we have made. We also need to grapple with ourselves and the challenge of the marginalized communities and gain a better understanding of human rights and dignity. ”
The conference was acknowledged to be ground breaking, with the international AIDS community refusing to accept any possibility of going backwards. Proff. Sinoussi, said in a final address, “My award as Nobel Laureate is a recognition of the tireless engagement from a community of people who have fought every day over the past 30 years.” We have striven, she said, “for equal access, the end of stigma, discrimination violence and repressive policies wherever they are.”
Summing up the conference, President Bill Clinton said, “You should be excited at this moment. You are embracing ambitious goals for 2015 in the face of a financial crisis. Don’t let what we don’t have slow us down. Lets use what we do have. We have the stronger leadership than I can remember. The Developing world is now spending more on AIDS than richer countries are donating. It’s happened because of you. Millions of people in a future aids free generation depend on you and we have to deliver for them.”
The challenge of the marginalised to the church.
Jesus scandalised his peers because of his friendships outside of accepted religious circles. At the IAC Rev Alan Bain determined to meet some of today’s marginalized.
Gladys and Ruby
Gladys Gonzales, born Bladymir was born a man in El Salvador. Twelve years ago and now aged thirty four she became a woman.
Gladys was part of a church, and said, “I was raised in a Christian family and enjoyed church but could not change the way I felt. I always knew I was gay and that I was a woman so when I had the chance I changed. I was lucky that I was very well accepted in my family.”
Gladys continued, “ Now I try to avoid going to church, because they tell you what you should do. They call me ‘Sir’ and will not accept me as a woman. It’s frustrating because, for me, they are throwing the difficulties and accomplishment of becoming a woman to the ground. They always want to know why, but they don’t want to listen to the answer.”
Gladys now works with transgender young people as a youth programme leader with La Clinica del Peublo in Washington DC, dealing with Latino refugees who fled to the US after the war in El Salvador in the early 1980’s. The community has a history of trauma after exposure to bombing and atrocities in their homeland. Most are poor, from rural areas, have little access to health care, but often have a deeply Christian faith. La Clinica Del Pueblo runs a large HIV prevention and education programme, has its own chapel and works closely with local churches.
Gladys continued, “I would like to return to church because I need something spiritual. The problem with churches is that they misinterpret the scriptures and then feel free to discriminate. Many religious leaders believe that certain things are best not talked about but we need more tolerance and a helping hand. I know God loves me as I am.”
One of the young people in the youth programme, Ruby Orellana, born Edwin has a different story, growing up with nine sisters. She said, “ I had the idea when I was aged four or five and started dressing as a women around 8 years old. It was fine in my home but there were lots of problems at school. Girlfriends accepted me, but boys didn’t want me playing with them even though I liked being with them. They rejected me and sometimes threw pencils. No one would sit with me in the class and it was hard. Eventually the principle said that I was to come as a boy or not at all.
Ruby stopped her schooling aged eight and is only just learning to read and write at the age of 27.
Ruby regularly attends a Catholic church, “Some people don’t receive me well but most do, not because they like it, but because they understand. When I take communion I go with the women and some nudge one another. I go to confession and the priest says I should not change how I am, but remember to act respectfully and dress well. It would be nice if church people would give us the opportunity to get to know us. We are normal people who decided to be women.”
In spite of Jesus example, today’s marginalized remain a challenge to the church and still find a mixed reaction in our congregations.
Will the ethics prevent a cure ?
Important new advances announced today in the race to find a cure for HIV were shrouded in mystery over the ethics of the research.
Francois Barre Sinoussi who won the Nobel prize for identifying the virus that causes HIV and part of the International AIDS Society group of experts set up to develop a roadmap for research, said that an “Ethical Working Group” had been set up to monitor the research. When questioned on its purpose by Rev Alan Bain for the Baptist Times in the UK, she declined to comment, but said, “It is too early to speak of ethical problems. We will know more early next year.”
It is widely known however through Professor Sinoussi’s article written jointly with Prof. Steven Deeks in July’s scientific journal, “Nature” that there are serious ethical issues that arise because HIV research is conducted on humans. It is too expensive and long-term she reasons to treat animals with ARV’s over long periods to replicate the physiology of a human.
She wrote, “The research community must address the Ethical issues that arise in HIV cure research, in which scientists must test new and potentially very toxic drugs in individuals who are receiving long-term ARV therapy.”
She points out that although these individuals have access to therapy and are doing well, “the potential risks to them will need to be weighed against the potential benefits to the larger community.”
Acknowledging the risks, Prof Sinoussi said “ Strong community support is needed to ensure patients and their care givers are fully engaged and informed about the risks and benefits of curative studies.”
Give up now and history will never forgive us !
In a powerful summit meeting held at the IAC in Washington Christian groups were urged by high-level speakers to continue to make progress and forge new partnerships beyond their comfort zone in the fight against AIDS..
Hosted by Rick and Kay warren of Saddleback church the event featured a video link with President Obama and President Bush and a dazzling array of US congress and Christian leaders.
Dr Rick warren the founder of Saddleback church and author of the best selling book “The purpose driven life” called for the church to be more tolerant. He said “We don’t agree on hardly anything together but we can work on lots together.” Rick talked of the differences he and IAC speaker Elton John have in approach. “We are world’s apart” he said, “but I said to Elton, ‘if you want to stop aids and you’r serious about it you must work through the local church. It’s everywhere’”
Dr Warren continued, “ The church can do it cheaper and faster than anyone and we are bigger than the Chinese population.” Mr Warren, when challenged about the behaviour of the LGBT community, encouraged the church to move beyond its comfort zone saying “If anyone wants to end AIDS I am on your side. I don’t have to agree with everything you say or do. I will work with you and I will not insist you change your views. I am often more willing to work with others than they are with me.”
President Barak Obama said by video link, “ Realising the dream of an AIDS free generation is a priority for my administration. Our work with the church is critical in fight against HIV; may God give us the spirit and unity to complete this work we have started.” And President Bush the originator of one of the major funds for HIV drugs, PEPFAR, said, “I am a firm believer in; ‘to him to whom much is given will much be required’. Poor work does not serve our moral interests. Keep up the good work and may god bless you.”
Speaker Dave Evans from Food for the Hungry spoke of faith leaders being critical agents of change and the unique contribution the church can make in bringing comfort, care and being a catalyst for change in its prophetic role. Senator Mary Landrieu called for closer contact between the church and those with HIV. “We used to give money in church to build orphanages now we need to empty them. We need to give ourselves. I guess there could be 163 million orphans in world, but there are 2.4 billion Christians. It’s enough to care for them all! The only question is; why aren’t we?”
The summit was at a central point in the IAC conference that has heard Hillary Clinton speak of ending AIDS for good. In a charismatic address at the start of the conference she said, “ the ability to prevent and treat the disease has advanced beyond what we might have reasonable hoped 22 years ago. Yes, AIDS is still incurable, but it no longer has to be a death sentence. Now with the progress we have made together, we can look ahead to a historic goal; creating an AIDS free generation. We will not back off, we will not back down, we will fight for the resources necessary to achieve this historic milestone.”
The new president of France, Francois Hollande has also called for a global financial transaction tax to fund AIDS projects which France has unilaterally decided to implement from August 1st, while the head of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe said in a keynote address, “ I want you to close your eyes. Listen to my words. We can end AIDS. But this opportunity will evaporate if we do not act and history will never forgive us.”
Living for the dying - the remarkable story of Joseph’s House.
It’s a fairly unremarkable family house in a downtown part of Washington DC but its ministry to the dying is remarkable.
In the late 1980’s, Dr David Hilfiker, saw the toll that the AIDS epidemic was taking on poor and homeless African-American men in Washington DC , many with addictions and mental illness. He wanted to live in close proximity to them. He said, “I wanted to build community with them before they died, but it was difficult – they were poor, I was wealthy, they were black, I was white, they were sick I was well.”
David founded and renovated Joseph's House in 1990 as a home and community that would be a deep source of healing and transformation for these men suffering from end-stage AIDS, and for those who would care for them. He said “ My family had rooms upstairs, we had community meetings with lots of discussions. By the 1990’s medication had improved and we had lots of “well” people. So we began to work as an hospice, male and female with terminal illness , suffering from the end stages of AIDS and Cancer. “
Ms. Priscilla Norris has more than 20 years of nursing and hospice experience and has served as Senior Nurse Case Manager for Joseph’s House since 2003, she said “Our function is to be a home for the Hospice, a highly skilled family. We take care of Hospice patients in a life giving way. They have meals with us, we share everything including the cats and dogs, the young people and volunteers who help us. We believe the community itself is a healing agent. We don’t have to focus on treatment because we are living with them and we see what they need. They become human beings – not AIDS patients.” Priscilla acknowledged that the home has a spiritual component. “We might pray with them, breathe with them in their pain in a one-on-one culture. We are with them in their pain when pain-killers can do no more. Often too, other residents help us.” David’s own spirituality is summed up in his blog “Ultimately, I believe it’s our faith not our belief that defines us as followers of Jesus. It’s our commitment to that love that lies at the foundation of the universe that gives us our faith, and our faith is demonstrated in our behaviour and actions.”
Joseph's House was founded on the concept of intentional community. This model espouses "community" as a source of profound human healing through the building of relationships. Joseph's House surrounds each resident with the presence of specially trained staff and volunteers, who are continually trained in the practice of unconditional love and forgiveness, mercy and justice. They seek to practice compassionate care so that the act of service itself becomes a source of healing, both for the served and the server. The community is nourished by regular periods of contemplative prayer and meditation.
Ms.Patricia Wudel Executive Director for Joseph’s House since 1998, spoke of the philosophy underlying the work, “ We pay attention to being conscious of the here and now. What makes a difference to our staff meetings is our practice of 15 minutes of silence before we begin. We find we grow in compassion which is why we stay here. We have a culture of ‘permission for feelings’ and the ability to explore where they come from.”
The house has a meditation room and the staff take retreats 7 times a year. Monday is their ‘mindful Monday’, a special day of being aware. Pat said, “ we try hard not to say; ‘we said, he said, he did, he didn’t’. We have a non-sectarian spirituality which not just tolerates other religions but welcomes them.”
The non-judgemental attitude of staff is all pervasive and the rooms are surrounded by hundreds of photographs of former residents who have died. David said “It’s a way of “remembering those whose greatest fear is of being forgotten” . Many referrals are made to the home from prisons and health centres and founder Dr Hilfiker summed up the challenge of the home; “ it’s harder”, he said, “to be a community than an Institution.” And a remarkable one it is.
A Personal note from Alan - Ending AIDS for good!
Thank you for, your prayers while at the International AIDS Conference. Here the speeches and high profile leaders are unrelenting, yet all show the same passion to end AIDS for good. With the unprcedented medical advance and imporvements in care and ART provision, for the first time its a possibility. Although the figures are still frightning with around 5,000 people a day dying of AIDS around the world, over 30 million known infections and under a half recieving medication.
This morning I heard speeches from Hillary Clinton , Elton John, Pesident Obama, Hollande the new President of France, and the General secretary of the UN. No sign of Mr Cameron yet! The president of the World Bank was particularly inspiring yesterday at the opening session. He links AIDS with the fight against world poverty and spoke of the need to learn the lessons the AIDS community have taught the world and its success in turning the tide and applying the same systems and passion to the fight against world poverty. If we can see the end of AIDS we can do the same things with world poverty and he vowed to do so.
US Secretary of State Clinton was charismatic and inspiring and wholly behind putting more resources into the AIDS fight. She's probably the motor behind the Obama administration's push on ending AIDS. There's no way the Americans are giving up, which means we can end AIDS - but not without them. They have beefed up PEPFAR their main funding for AIDS and are now working much more intelligently with the Global Fund, the other main funder of Anti Retro Virals. They are doing all this and a lot more besides, even in the teeth of a recession.
The whole atmosphere here reminds me of when our church was heavily involved in the struggle against Apartied in South African. One speaker said "Together we are greater than AIDS" , which is what we learnt then and need to remember now, though we are not there yet, and complacency is always the enemy. There is also a stunning endorsement of the Church's work around the world coming from many speakers including Hillary Clinton, who point out that without Faith Based Organisations it just couldnt be done.
To keep my feet on the ground, I visited an an HIV Hospice in Washington DC today called Joseph's House. Just a small group of us from the conference were invited.
Joseph's House is a small family who take in people so they can die in dignity within a family setting. They do what we do well at St Philips, creating community and a safe place. Then they stay with them as they recover or die in the house ; drug addicts, HIV Positive people, dispossed, those without anything. They have a member who happens to be a nurse but they dont try to emulate a hospice. They just provide community which brings healing as their new found family recover or pass away. There are photos all over the house to remind them of those they helped. Its important to remember them, they said. The dispossed greatest fear is not being remembered. They have done this since the 1980's when the epedemic began. Its a great lesson on what people of faith can do when they set out to serve as Christ did.
Thanks for your prayers. Keep praying that St Philips stays at the forfront of this great attack against humanity.
Conference warned, “Complacency is the greatest danger”
Colourful drummers greeted the EAA service celebrating the final act of the Faith based pre-conference of the IAC in Washington DC. 400 delegates and other supporters crowded into the vast Washington National Cathedral, the sixth largest in the world.
Taking the theme of “Darkness to Light”, speaker, Dr James Curran, paraphrased the words of Winston Churchhill and called the congregation to never give up the struggle against AIDS until its final defeat.
Dr Curran reflected, “We look back at how far we have come, but we look forward at how far we have to go. We are the survivors but others have passed on. Much has changed over the last 30 years and we have had triumphs and disasters. In the words of Kipling, we must treat these impostors as the same.”
The service began with haunting flute melodies echoing through the gothic style pointed arches, stained glass windows and flying buttresses. Though looking every inch an historic and beautiful European cathedral, the building was only completed just over two decades ago.
High musical spots in the service were the traditional choral music from the cathedral singers and Gospel music from the Washington Performing arts society Gospel choir.
There were times of sober reflection as commemorative candles were lit and prayers read. Rev Richardson led a prayer from Westminster Abbey for healing action; “ Enable us to offer our energies, our imaginations, and our trust in the mysteries of love, to be united with and through one another in liberating each other from fear and disease.” The final blessing from a South African freedom song called for greater faith, “that you can make a difference in this world, doing what others claim cannot be done!”
Speaker, Dr Curran captured the mood when he spoke of the need to face future challenges. “The natural history of HIV is to be silent and life long. People remain infected and transmit the virus, often unknowingly. There is a sea of ignorance around it and it is inevitable fatal. There is no cure and no vaccine. It unfairly affects the poorest people. It is surrounded by denial, stigma and discrimination which like garden weeding, demands our continuous attention.”
James Curran encouraged the congregation to renew their commitment to defeating AIDS, as he concluded, “ Our greatest danger is complacency, we cannot declare victory prematurely. When the history of AIDS is written, our most precious contribution may be to say – we did not hide.”
“We cannot wait for greedy Pharmaceutical companies to respond while patients die”
Those dying of AIDS have waited long enough for a response from a Pharmaceutical Industry (PI) dragging its feet in search of profits, the IAC pre-conference for Faith Based groups was told today.
David Deakin from TEARFUND in the UK, and himself once a worker in the industry, spoke of the 15-year battle between 1996 and 2003. He said, “10 million allegedly died from AIDS then as a direct result of the intransigence of the PI. They have a systemic problem that needs to change. We supply 8 million patients now with ART* but by 2030 this will rise to 50 million. With 2nd and 3rd line drugs* things will only get harder. Today, 4657 people will die of AIDS – mainly due to lack of access to appropriate drugs.”
Esteban Burrone, the policy advisor of the medicines patient pool and institution set up in 2010 to promote access to affordable HIV medicines in developing countries, pointed out, “ what use are expensive second and third line drugs to patients who can’t afford them? We invite the industry to sit down and discuss how they can bring down prices.” Mr Burrone spoke of the royalties involved and bilateral licences offered in secret and called for more transparency. “We have taken the first step in a long march” he said, “we need to bring the PI to the negotiating table, learn from our own mistakes, find a solution and work collaboratively and voluntarily. I am convinced the PI can do more.”
Dr Lalthanmawia from the Christian Medical Association of India spoke of the challenges in India where he said that they would need 27,000-second line drugs by the end of 2012 but treatment depended on funding available. He said, “ We are seeing international companies taking over drug patents and 2nd line drugs are now six times more expensive than 1st line. We should put on pressure to stop licensing which blocks access for poorer countries.” He concluded, “We need to be more people-centric rather than concentrating on products – second line drugs need to be more accessible.”
Ruth Messinger from the American Jewish World Service pointed out “every person not treated is an unnecessary death. The US spent $225Million each day on the war in Iraq, $18Million each day on their pets. The issue is not funding but priorities and they have to change.”
Mr Deakin asked for an immediate response using the social networking site Twitter to target eight Pharmaceutical companies who will not enter negotiations. Giving out their addresses he asked delegates to message, “Ppl of faith say global access now! Put yr #HIV meds in #the pool!” Using the words from Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, “the lord saw no justice an no one to intervene”, he called for people of faith to not stand back but to intervene.
*ART Antir-Retro Viral Therapy
* 2nd and 3rd line drugs required when patients become resistant to 1st line drugs.
Faith groups are essential in the fight against AIDS
The work of faith groups in combating HIV and AIDS has been hailed as essential by a high level US Government official in Washington DC this week.
Speaking at the gathering of over 400 faith leaders from around the world Ambassador Eric Goosby, US Global AIDS co-ordinator, cited the desperation and lack of hope ten years ago, but reflected, “ We have seen a decade of transformation in which PEPFAR* has been critical, but central to our work has been the work of Faith Based organisations. Without you we could not have achieved this.”
Ambassador Goosby launched “A firm Foundation”, a new report from PEPFAR on the role of faith based organisations in combating HIV and AIDS. The report’s main finding concluded, “ the race to defeat AIDS has shifted from a sprint to a marathon. FBO’s are essential in this race as they offer well established networks, clear commitments to serve local communities, a wide range of programmes and skills, trust, and the capacity to mobilise an army of volunteers in any corner of the globe”.
The report, launched at the Faith Based Pre-conference to the main World AIDS Conference in Washington DC this week, is the culmination of 58 faith groups meeting with PEPFAR in May 2012. The 64 page report summarises the insights and experience of 98 leaders from 58 different countries as well as partner organisations.
Dr Freiden director of the centres for Disease Control and Prevention concurred as he spoke to the gathering and agreed, “ PEPFAR would not get the results it does without the work of FBO’s. All faiths start with the concept that life is sacred. Sick people come to them, not just to get well, but to be healed. They are life saving as well as life affirming. They provide health care of great quality and low cost. They do phenomenal work."
Ambassador Goosby pointed out that that there were three main sources of help for HIV and AIDS; PEPFAR, country governments and the Global Fund, but he concluded, “Faith groups work with us in the toughest areas and reach those beyond reach of health systems and in the most marginalised and stigmatised communities. You have long histories and strong community roots. Its not optional to work with FBO’s its essential.”
*Pepfar (The US presidents Emergency plan for AIDS Relief)
Training and prevention are key to ending the AIDS Pandemic
A nine point plan has been issued by the International AIDS Society to build support for the end of the AIDS pandemic, ahead of the AIDS 2012 World AIDS conference in Washington next week.
Dr. Katabira, International Chair of AIDS 2012 said, “In a scenario unthinkable just a few years ago, we now have the knowledge to begin to end AIDS in our lifetimes, yet, at this moment of extraordinary scientific progress and potential, the global response to AIDS faces crippling financial challenges that threaten past success and future progress. Through this declaration, we stand together to call on world leaders across all sectors to provide increased resources, visionary leadership, and a full-fledged commitment to seize the opportunity before us.”
Included in the nine point declaration are sections devoted to Prevention and training, work ACET and other organisations are already involved in around the world.
Two points in the declaration call for;
Evidence-based HIV prevention, treatment and care in accord with the human rights of those at greatest risk and in greatest need;
An end to stigma, discrimination, legal sanctions and human rights abuses against those living with and at risk for HIV;
Diane Havlir, U.S. Co-Chair of AIDS 2012 said “While we undoubtedly still need a cure and a vaccine, we can save millions of lives with the knowledge we have today if we fully implement the proven strategies we now have to treat those living with HIV and prevent new infections.”
Scientists, politicians, celebrities and all other concerned citizens of the world are urged to sign the declaration at www.dcdeclaration.org or www.2endaids.org, where the full text is also available in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Swahili, Japanese, Hindi and Thai.