KENYA: Faith groups told they have key role in AIDS fight

November 30, 2009

In advance of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, Kenyans living with HIV gathered at Nairobi's All Saints Anglican Cathedral to send 10,000 Thanksgiving Day postcards to U.S. President Barack Obama.

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

At the Nov. 26 ceremony, the cards were given to Warren Buckingham, the Kenya country coordinator for the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, who is to deliver them to Washington D.C.

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 health care infrastructure. In Kenya, between 35 and 40 percent of anti-retroviral 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 "recognize 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 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."

The 2009 AIDS Epidemic Update, released by UNAIDS, the United Nations program on HIV and AIDS, and the World Health Organization, showed that new HIV infections have been reduced by 17 percent 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 percent 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 organizations committed to joint action on critical issues facing the world.

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