Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Once again, we will need to prove our resilience..
I remember the 2017 Scientific AIDS conference in Paris. There was a palpable air of anxiety about the future of the HIV Epidemic. Many people talked about their fears, the global complacency as if the epidemic were over, the risk of a bulge of new infections among young people, the social factors that were still major barriers.
The next year, in Amsterdam, the feelings and discussions were more concrete, a recognition that we wouldn’t reach the Fast Track targets for 2020, the data showing that new infections were still much too high, the reality that global funding was substantially below what was needed. We asked ourselves, “Do you think that we might actually fail?”
But if there is a characteristic shared by all HIV and AIDS activists, it is resilience. We just never give up. We saw some of that in 2019. Although there were still many reasons to be fearful about the future, the Mexico City scientific conference also included stories about cities and countries that have succeeded. And for the first time in many years, there was an increase in commitments to the Global Fund.
Now it is 2020. The world has been hit by a catastrophic pandemic. We do not know what the full impact of COVID-19 will be, either on society globally or on the HIV epidemic. Once again, we will need to prove our resilience.
For people of faith involved in the HIV response, the key word may be renewal. Ten years ago, there was a summit of religious leaders that committed to taking action against HIV and AIDS. We are now at the halfway point from that summit to 2030, UNAIDS’ target year for ending HIV and AIDS as public health threats. Now is the time for religious communities and other faith-based organizations to prove our resilience and to renew our commitment to fight HIV. Now is the time to renew our commitment to protect the vulnerable and to reach out to the marginalized. Now is the time to renew our commitment to provide care and support for people living with or at risk of HIV in our communities. Now is the time to renew our commitment to provide HIV prevention and treatment services free of stigma, discrimination, or risk of criminal prosecution. Now is the time to renew our commitment to strong advocacy for universal access to HIV services.
And now is the time for followers of all religious traditions to renew our commitment to work together. Although we have some differences in doctrine, we also share many sacred values, and we know we can work together toward common goals.
“When religious communities agree on a common cause, they can successfully transcend the confines of their doctrines.” Rev. Phumzile Mabizela of INERELA+
Working together, we can do it. Working together, we can end HIV by 2030.
Dr. David Barstow
David R. Barstow, PhD. After a thirty-year career as a computer scientist, internet entrepreneur, and business consultant, Dr. Barstow felt a personal calling to join the fight against HIV and AIDS. He founded EMPACT Africa, a non-profit focused on the role of faith and religious communities in confronting the epidemic. He has worked with pastors in Southern Africa to help them deal with the stigma of HIV and AIDS and has worked with international organizations, such as UNAIDS and the World Council of Churches, involved with faith response to HIV at the global level. Most recently, he coordinated the Faith and HIV in the Next Decade strategic planning initiative. He is the author of HIV and AIDS in 2030: A Choice Between Two Futures.