Written by Robert Lee
The Global Health Policy Center hosted a presentation on Monday January 30, 2012, highlighting the contributions faith-based-organizations (FBOs) make to global health including the fight against HIV/AIDS. The presentation was hosted by the director of the Global Health Policy Center Stephen Morrison, and featured speeches from Dr. Diane V. Havlir, the U.S. co-chair for the XIX International Aids conference, and Dr. Chris Beyrer, the North American Representative of the governing council of the International AIDS society. After the speeches, Dr. Havlir moderated a panel discussion with Kay Warren, founder of the HIV & AIDS initiative at Saddleback Church, Anita Smith, founder and president of the Children’s AIDS Fund, Ken Hackett, President of Catholic Relief Services, and Dr. Kent Hill, Senior Vice President of International Programs at Worldvision. Following the panel, a Q&A session was opened to members of the audience.
Dr. Havlir spoke about the importance of the XIX International Aids Conference which will be held in Washington, D.C. July 22-27 this year, and of promising results from the field which suggest that anti-retroviral drugs can not only treat infection but also significantly reduce rates of transmission. She also emphasized the historical involvement of FBOs in global health and concluded that a continued campaign against HIV/AIDS must emerge from the conference that includes all actors, especially the faith community. Dr. Beyrer focused his speech on Burma to illustrate the faith community’s involvement in treating HIV/AIDS victims, talking in depth about the efforts of Buddhist monks and Christian churches in providing care. Recalling a comment the Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi made in 2000- that the distinction between HIV/AIDS victims “deserving or undeserving” of compassion was false – Dr. Beyrer affirmedFBOs as leaders in fighting such biases.
The panel discussion touched upon a variety of questions and issues regarding the role of faith-based organizations in the global fight against HIV and AIDS. Both Mr. Hackett and Dr. Hill emphasized that FBOs enjoyed a unique level of community trust and credibility that were crucial to the success of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment efforts. Mr. Hackett later expressed his concern that recent trends away from prevention and towards technical solutions would delay the goal of an AIDS-free generation and emphasized the role FBOs could play in pushing for behavior changes as a preventative measure.
Ms. Smith spoke about the success and continued sustainability of models that integrated deeply with local faith communities. She emphasized the powerful role that FBOs could play in collaborative efforts and in defending funding for HIV/AIDS programs. A view that was shared by other panel participants.
Ms. Warren made a passionate call for greater attention to and funding for aids orphans, and Dr Havlir added the need to pay attention to uninfected but exposed children. Ms. Warren also expressed her appreciation at genuine efforts to involve the faith community in discussions in the global fight against HIV, and Dr. Hill closed by pointing to the importance and effectiveness of FBOs of all faiths well as inter-faith collaborations.
The question and answer session included discussions on the importance of conscience provisions in making possible a “big tent” approach that would allow many different actors to work together, the under-reported HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Middle East and North Africa, the difficulties of balancing affordable access to medicine with the incentives for drug companies to continue expensive research, and several announcements regarding the interfaith conference before the international aids conference (to be held at Howard University), a march and rally on the first day of the conference, and an effort spearheaded by participants of the American Friends of AIDS 2012 to mobilize 100 churches in the D.C. area for a new outreach program.
The event highlighted what until now has been the largely overlooked and under-appreciated role of faith-based-organizations in fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The theme of the XIX International AIDS Conference this year is “Turning the Tide Together.” Everyone present at the event agreed that if we are going to turn the tide of this epidemic, we will need the very important contributions of the faith community.