Monday, 6 August 2012

Faith and HIV

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Interfaith Pre-Conference on HIV took place at Howard University in Washington from the 20 and 21 July. Howard University is historically a black college whose graduates played a large part in the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Movement. Famous alumni include Justice Thurgood Marshall, Stokely Carmichael and Andrew Young, former Ambassador to the UN.

The conference brought together hundreds of religious and community leaders, faith-based representatives, young people and people living with HIV from all over the world under the common theme of health, dignity and justice. I attended this with Marjorie Clark, the Church of Scotland HIV/AIDS Programme Coordinator and Chrisie Morrison, the Communications Officer, from Signposts International.

The first session outlined the faith community’s challenges and opportunities in their work and how to address issues such as stigma,  the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and global funding both during the main conference and on our return home.

From the wide choice of follow-up workshops I chose one on Faith & Stigma organized by the Lutheran Evangelical Church on best practices for building a radically-inclusive faith community. A panel discussed how to help end stigmatization and to develop a welcoming, knowledgeable Church supportive of PLWHA. Stigma needs to be continually challenged in churches and congregations as well as in government and the work-place. Education of lay leaders and the clergy and counselling and conversations around policies that fuel stigma is vital. We, in the UCZ, have needlessly lost too many Church workers through stigma already.

The Lutheran Church invited the Church of Scotland delegates to a reception that was addressed by a Representative from the Global Fund who outlined briefly the new procedures to be undertaken for applying for funds and how they would be disbursed in the future. I commented on how difficult it was to be efficient and effective stewards in the present system, when funding came late and had to be spent quickly.

Later in the afternoon I attended the Catholic Relief Services workshop on addressing the nutritional needs of malnourished clients in HIV programs and making the best use of limited resources. This was useful as we have been recipients of the Guild’s New Hunger Programme. Our response to the unprecedented numbers of malnourished, chronically ill adults was with food assistance programs to affected households through community-based targeting. This was done by supporting the hospital feeding programme and needy patients after discharged, similar to a ‘Food by Prescription’ (FBP) model that focuses on the individual’s nutritional needs as part of their HIV care and treatment program.

The latest development is the nutrition assessment, counseling and support (“NACS”) framework which promotes the “nutrition assessment and counselling for all HIV clients, supported by specialized commodities for rehabilitation as required.” For the integration of NACS into HIV care and treatment services and for it to work, it will require careful consideration of our budget, clients, staffing capacities and infrastructure. The workshop gave an overview of the components of NACS, the thinking behind NACS and a useful look at a more cost-effective design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Today at the morning plenary we were reminded that universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support was supposed to be realized by the end of 2010. However, presently only 50% of people needing anti-retroviral treatment (ART) have access to it. Studies have shown that successful treatment can prevent new HIV infections and the UN pledged to end vertical transmission of HIV by 2015.

The further scale-up of ART and access to affordable ARVs for adults and children still seems to be a challenge especially as regards long-term funding. There appear also to be patent and trade-related issues. A possible solution mentioned was the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) as one concrete way to facilitate long-term treatment in resource-poor settings in the future.

As was mentioned above there is an exciting plan to eliminate new HIV infections in children and to keep these mothers alive. This was the final workshop I went to. Mission Hospitals are in the frontline in the battle to eliminate new HIV infections in children as well as reducing maternal mortality. Our program for prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) have good practices that provide comprehensive services according to the 4-pronged approach as outlined in the UNAIDS Global Report. Only if our doctors, midwives and other health workers continue to provide good antenatal, obstetric and post-natal care will maternal mortality be reduced.

Finally, in the closing sessions speakers made it is clear that more needs to be done to address the social injustices exposed by HIV and AIDS, including poverty and gender inequality. Faith communities and faith-based organizations can reach most easily those most affected by HIV. In addition to spiritual guidance, we also provide community-wide health, education and social services inspired by our faith that seeks equality, dignity and justice for all.

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