How, and how not, to stop AIDS in Africa

"We have ... emerged from the Age of Inaction to the Age of Ineffective Action," writes William Easterly in his review of The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS, Helen Epstein's new book on AIDS in Africa.

In Africa, AIDS is now a multibillion-dollar industry, with the US President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (GFATM), the United Nations' AIDS consortium, UNAIDS, and major efforts by the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the Gates Foundation, and national aid agencies. Unfortunately, these well-meaning efforts are badly weakened by political agendas, misdirected priorities, ignorance, and plain incompetence.

To illustrate the role of political agendas, Epstein discusses the famous success story by which AIDS infection rates in Uganda decreased as a result of the ABC campaign—'Abstain, Be Faithful, and Use Condoms.' Epstein damns both the Western right and left for their misuse of the lessons of Uganda. The religious right played up the "Abstain" part because it happened to fit their particular moral preferences. People on the left, who had different sexual morals, said just use condoms. The 'Be Faithful' message, precisely the one in Epstein's story that was critical in Uganda (led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who called for "Zero Grazing"), was a political orphan, disdained by both left and right.


The book is receiving such good reviews that it sounds increasingly like a must-read for those who hope to participate in future debates on the issue.

Advent in a time of AIDS

Here is another cool on-line Advent calendar. The Ecumenical Advisory Alliance, a worldwide ecumenical network of denominations, church relief agencies and ecumenical organizations, have developed a web-based Advent calendar featuring daily meditations, readings and photographs. Many of the reflections are written by people living with AIDS.

Todays meditation is found here. It is written by Kay Warren, Executive Director of the HIV/AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Here is a sample:

People whose lives have been touched by HIV and AIDS are desperately in need of hope. Hope for access to good medical treatment and life-saving medication. Hope for being surrounded by a caring community who will offer support. But most of all, hope that this life is not all there is - that there is a better world waiting for all who have put their trust in God's gift of salvation.

Each day that passes brings us one step closer to finally receiving all that has been promised to us. Even in our brokenness, we know that one day all sorrow, sadness, and sickness will be over. These bodies that are so weak now will be restored to full health, and joy will return. That's a hope to hold onto!
God of all hope, help us to hold on to the promise of your salvation. Amen.

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance describes itself as "a broad ecumenical network for international cooperation in advocacy on global trade and HIV and AIDS."

More than 100 churches and church-related organizations have joined the Alliance by committing themselves to "speak out with one voice against injustice, to confront structures of power, practices and attitudes which deprive human beings of dignity and to offer alternative visions based on the Gospel." This commitment to joint action brings with it enormous strength and responsibility.

The Alliance has identified the HIV and AIDS pandemic as one of the gravest challenges to health and also to the prospects of social and economic development and global security. The campaign, "Keep the Promise." holds individuals, religious leaders, faith organizations, governments and intergovernmental organizations accountable for the commitments they have made and advocates for further efforts and resources to fight HIV and AIDS. The campaign works to protect the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS, promote an attitude of care and solidarity which rejects all forms of stigmatization and discrimination, and advocates for access to necessary forms of treatment as well as expand efforts for education and prevention.

Here is a PDF list of the organizations that make up the Alliance and here is their home page.

World AIDS Day

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop have released messages about today's observance of World AIDS Day.

In the Presiding Bishop's letter she calls on all Episcopalians to lobby the coming Obama administration to "make the fight against AIDS at home and around the world a priority".

The Archbishop of Canterbury has posted a video statement with additional resources found on these webpages along with specific petitions for our prayers today.

Two sites that are particularly of interest for Episcopalians concerned with responding to the challenge of AIDS and HIV infection are the Episcopal Public Policy pages and the National Episcopal AIDS coalition.

The full text of the Presiding Bishop's letter follows.

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A president who does not always fit the stereotype

Jay P. Lefkowitz, Bush’s deputy domestic policy adviser when the global AIDS initiative was being developed, gives an insider's account of the president's interest in HIV/AID policy. One extract:

The announcement came the next month in the President’s 2003 State of the Union address. Midway through his remarks, he turned to the issue of AIDS, pointing out that nearly 30 million people in Africa were infected, including three million children under the age of fifteen. Yet across the entire continent, observed Bush, only 50,000 AIDS victims were receiving medication. Calling his initiative a “work of mercy beyond all current international efforts to help the people of Africa,” he declared his intention to commit to it a full $15 billion over the next five years. This time, the reaction from AIDS activists was a resounding chorus of approval.

No sooner had the dust settled on the State of the Union speech than the initiative faced its first controversy. Although the heart of the plan lay in the disbursement of funds for prevention, treatment, and care, the President had made clear that he wanted to follow the Ugandan model of counseling. This raised the touchy issue of condom distribution (the C in the ABC).

Read it all here.

Yesterday Bush pulled another surprise, using his executive powers to create three huge environmental preserves in the Pacific.

Using hypocrisy to encourage safe sex

Washington Post

What if the students placed themselves in a position where they vociferously and publicly advocated to others the utility of condoms? If Aronson could make them spokespeople for AIDS prevention, he theorized, it would be very difficult for them to then act as if condoms didn't really do much to stop AIDS or they were not really at risk. They would feel like hypocrites.

Aronson realized he had gotten things backward: Instead of his selling condom use to students, what he really needed was for them to sell AIDS prevention to him.

Anti-retroviral medication withdrawn in the Free State

ACNS:

The Synod of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, meeting at Modderpoort in the Free State from 16 to 20 February 2009, have been shocked at the news that the Provincial Department of Health in the Free State has withdrawn anti-retroviral medication from HIV positive patients because of shortage of funds.
Read it all.

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HIV positive Ugandan priest wins Niwano Peace Prize

Episcopal Life reports on an HIV positive Ugandan priest who has won the 2009 Niwano Peace Prize for breaking the silence in faith communities on HIV/AIDS.

The Rev. Canon Gideon Byamugisha, a Ugandan Anglican priest who became the first known African cleric to declare publicly he was HIV-positive, breaking stigma-induced silence that often hampers combating the illness, has been awarded the Niwano Peace Prize.

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Pope: distributing condoms helps to spread AIDS

From the Times of London:

The Pope courted further controversy on his first trip to Africa today by declaring that condoms were not a solution to the Aids epidemic – but were instead part of the problem.

In his first public comments on condom use, the pontiff told reporters en route to Cameroon that Aids "is a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems". ....

He said the "traditional teaching of the Church" on chastity outside marriage and fidelity within it had proved to be "the only sure way of preventing the spread of HIV and Aids".

The World Health Organization, on the other hand, says that "consistent and correct" condom use reduces the risk of HIV infection by 90 per cent. Are the pope's comments morally responsible?

AP is on the story as well.

Update:

France, echoing the reaction of some aid agencies, said it "voices extremely sharp concern over the consequences of [the Pope's comments]".

"While it is not up to us to pass judgment on Church doctrine, we consider that such comments are a threat to public health policies and the duty to protect human life," foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said.

Lancet: Pope's comments wildly inaccurate, devastating

BBC:

One of the world's most prestigious medical journals, the Lancet, has accused Pope Benedict XVI of distorting science in his remarks on condom use.

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Religious leaders offering input to G-20

Religious leaders told their input is valued
By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Standing in the lobby of a Downtown hotel, a key adviser to the U.S. delegation to the G-20 Summit promised an array of religious leaders that he would carry their concern for the poor into the economic conclave.

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Sexuality, faith, and India

The Rev. Winnie Varghese writes,

I leave for India Monday to attend a consultation in Chennai entitled "Sexuality and Faith." I have been an Episcopal Priest for almost 10 years, an Indian for 37, and I had not planned, in the words of Mordecai, for such a time as this.

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Presiding Bishop's statement for World AIDS Day

The Presiding Bishop's Statement for World AIDS Day 2009:

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ABC speaks out on World AIDS Day

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has released his 2009 World Aids Day video, in which he speaks with the Revd Patricia Sawo, a church leader and mother from Kenya, about her experiences of living with HIV. The video highlights the plight of expectant mothers who are HIV positive and the support they need to prevent the transmission of HIV to their babies.

Watch the video below:

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Belgian cardinal says AIDS is just punishment for promiscuity

David Gibson of Politics Daily has the latest sensitive, pastoral utterance from a leading Catholic official:

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World AIDS Day message from the Archbishop of Canterbury

From the Archbishop of Canterbury website:

Archbishop's video message for World AIDS Day 2010
Tuesday 30 November 2010
In his message for 2010 World AIDS Day, the Archbishop of Canterbury celebrates the good news that can be found in examples of local responses to HIV and the impact of global action reflected in the latest statistics.

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Vatican to host AIDS prevention, care conference

AP:

Pope Benedict XVI made headlines late last year when he said in a book interview that someone, such as a male prostitute, who uses a condom to prevent HIV transmission might be showing a first sign of a more moral sexuality because he is looking out for the welfare of another person.

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AIDS at 30

Today is the 30th anniversary of the first reported case of AIDS. Some resources for marking the day:

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World AIDS Day

The Presiding Bishops of The Episcopal Church and the ELCA have released a letter in honor of World AIDS Day tomorrow, December 1:

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World AIDS day: progress, and farther to go

President Obama provided a new target to fight AIDS: treatment to 6 million people worldwide by 2013.

Reuters reports:

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Bishop of Swaziland calls for King to step down

The small country of Swaziland in Southern Africa is the last absolute monarchy on that continent. It also has the highest rate of HIV infection (50% of young adults test positive) in the world. The Kingdom's response to this public health crisis has been hampered by a significant lack of leadership by the King according to people in the country

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ERD awarded grant for HIV/AIDS work in Zambia

Episcopal Relief and Development has received a $350,000 grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation for work in rural Zambia in partnership with the Zambia Anglican Council. The two groups will raise money to match the grant so that they can reach up to 4,000 families in rural areas where there is a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS.

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The wild Catholic career of the Rev. Bernard Lynch

Peter Stanford of The Independent profiles the Rev. Bernard Lynch, whose career is the Roman Catholic Church as a whistleblower, advocate for LGBT people, and, as it turns out, married gay man, would be dismissed as implausible were it proposed as fiction.

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International AIDS conference draws religious activists

Lucy Chumbly at Episcopal News Service reports on the International AIDS Conference and the gathering of religious activists.

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Archbishop Williams on World AIDS Day

The Archbishop of Canterbury has recorded a video message for World AIDS Day (1st December 2012) in which he highlights that ‘nearly 2 million women, every year, die as a result of this condition’, a fact which underlines that the ‘HIV/AIDS challenge is about women’s empowerment and women’s liberty.’

ACNS reports here.

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World AIDS Day

From NPR Story Corps:
REVEREND ERIC WILLIAMS & JANNETTE BERKLEY-PATTON

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World AIDS Day: what we still need to know

Today is World AIDS Day, a time to raise awareness about AIDS and work towards stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS and work for a cure. Michael Specter writes a sobering article in The New Yorker about the current status of awareness and action:

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Archbishop of Canterbury on World AIDS Day

The Archbishop of Canterbury reflects on the progress and the issues of a response to HIV/AIDS especially in Africa. How can the church be an agent of wellness?

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Pentecostal preachers push a prayer 'cure' for Africans with HIV

Some pentecostal pastors in Africa are pushing those infected with HIV to abandon drug treatment and opt for a prayer "cure" instead. From Religion News Service:

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HIV/AIDS and the notion of divine retribution

Fewer Americans believe AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior.

According to the Public Religion Research Institute, "fourteen percent of Americans agree with the idea that AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior, while 81 percent disagree. In 1992, more than twice as many Americans (36 percent) agreed that AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior, while fewer than 6-in-10 (57 percent) disagreed."

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Episcopal ministry in Honduras provides help to those with HIV, AIDS

From Episcopal News Service:

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