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Webinar : Spirituality, Mental Health and Resilience during the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and HIV

4 February 2021 - 2:30-4:30 pm CET

Biographies of Speakers & Presenters

Overview and Session 1 – Mental Health in the dual pandemics: what spirituality, resilience and a human rights-based approach have to offer?


Mr. Dainius Pūras

Director, Human Rights Monitoring Institute, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Vilnius university

Former Special Rapporteur on the right to health (2014 - 2020)

A human rights based approach to mental health

Dainius Pūras is a professor of child psychiatry and public mental health at Vilnius University, Lithuania. Since 2018 he is a director of the Human rights monitoring institute – NGO based in Lithuania. Among positions he was holding, Dainius Pūras was a President of Lithuanian Psychiatric Association and Dean of Faculty of Medicine of Vilnius University.  Dainius Pūras was a member of the UN Committee on the rights of the child (2007-2011) and  a UN Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health (2014-2020).


Dainius Pūras has been and remains actively involved in national and international activities in the field of developing and implementing evidence-based and human rights based health-related policies and services, with special focus on children, persons with disabilities, persons with mental health conditions and other groups in vulnerable situations and issues related to promotion of mental health and prevention of all forms of violence.  His main interest is management of change in the field of health-related services regionally and globally, with main focus on operationalization of human rights based approach through effective policies and services.


Dr. Anna (Ani) Shakarishvili

Special Adviser, Team Lead - Access to Treatment and Care, and Integration, UNAIDS / Geneva

Mental health and HIV: Mental Health, Substance Use and HIV/AIDS: promoting human rights, an integrated and person-centred approach to improving HIV and health outcomes, well-being and quality of life

Dr. Ani Shakarishvili brings over 25 years of working in global and public health in the areas of HIV, sexual and reproductive health, adolescence health, public and global health research, programme implementation and management in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Africa and the U.S.A., and over 15 years of the work at senior positions within UNAIDS. She currently leads the Access to HIV Treatment and Care, and Integration team at UNAIDS global office in Geneva. 


Before joining the UNAIDS headquarters, Dr. Shakarishvili was Senior Adviser at the UNAIDS U.S. Liaison Office in Washington with the primary focus on strengthening the UNAIDS partnerships with the U.S.A.-based organizations and programmes - PEPFAR, the World Bank Group and others. Between 2005 and 2013, she served as UNAIDS Country Director in Ukraine. 


Prior to joining UNAIDS in 2005, Dr. Shakarishvili held senior positions for the global STD and HIV programmes at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. Throughout these and earlier tenures, she has led and managed national, multinational and multi-country teams, and has been recognized as a successful builder of partnerships with governmental, UN, donor and other development institutions, civil society, community, faith-based and charity organizations, academia and private sector. She has championed Deliver as One UN in Ukraine by bringing together 11 UN organizations and IOM, and substantial resources for the UN System’s support for the AIDS response and health care reform. Until recently, she has successfully led the H6 partnership of six UN organizations at the technical level and advanced its work in support of countries’ women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health and wellbeing as a frontrunner of the UN reform at country level. Dr. Shakarishvili also brings with her a solid experience of financial and human resource mobilization for countries and health and other development programmes, and successful national policy and legal reforms in the areas of HIV, health care, human rights and gender equality. 


Dr. Shakarishvili holds a Medical Doctor degree from the Tbilisi Medical University in Georgia and an equivalent to Master of Public Health from the CDC in the U.S.A. She has received her clinical and public health education and professional training in Georgia and the U.S.A (Emory University School of Medicine and CDC). She is an author of a book on family planning and contraceptive technology, and publications on HIV, sexual and reproductive health, and STDs. 


Dr. Shakarishvili also serves as Professor and Professorial Lecturer in Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and Global Health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health in Washington DC, U.S.A. 

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Rev. Sarah Lund

United Church of Christ Minister for Disabilities and Mental Health Justice

Spiritual Care Tools for Community Mental Health

Rev. Dr. Sarah Lund is a pastor, author, and advocate for disabilities and mental health justice. She serves on the national staff of the United Church of Christ as the Minister for Disabilities and Mental Health Justice. Sarah is the senior pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ of Indianapolis, Indiana, and is the author of Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family, and Church and Blessed Union: Breaking The Silence About Mental Illness and Marriage. Sarah blogs at

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Dr. Sabrina T. Cherry

Interdisciplinary Qualitative Studies Certificate, Assistant Professor, Public Health Faculty Fellow, UNCW Center For Social Impact

Impact of Spirituality on Resilience and Coping during the COVID-19 Crisis

Dr. Sabrina T. Cherry is a teacher, writer, and speaker. Her professional experience includes two decades of working and volunteering in the field of Public Health, including serving as United States Peace Corps Volunteer in The Gambia, West Africa. As an Assistant Professor at UNC Wilmington, Sabrina has published over a dozen journal articles, book reviews, and commentaries. She has also presented at nearly three dozen local, national, and international conferences. As a sought-after speaker and researcher, Sabrina’s work focuses on the intersection of religion and health; narrative and other forms of qualitative research; health disparities; as well as equity and social justice. She has won multiple awards for her research and service including the 2018 National Economic Development Award, the Distinguished Scholarly Engagement and Public Service Award, and the 2020 Franklin H. Williams Award.


Sabrina earned a Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH) degree from the University of South Carolina, a Master of Theological Studies (MTS) from Emory University, and a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH), as a well as a Certificate in Interdisciplinary Qualitative Research, from the University of Georgia. You can read more about her work here:

Session 2 - Best Practices & Lessons Learned Session: HIV & COVID-19


Gracia Violeta Ross Quiroga

President of the Bolivian Network of People Living with HIV

Espiritualidad, salud mental y resiliencia en las pandemias de COVID-19 y VIH (Spirituality, Mental Health and Resilience during the dual pandemics)

Gracia Violeta Ross is Bolivian; she is a Social Anthropologist with postgraduate studies on Gender, Sexual and Reproductive Health.

In 2000, Violeta Ross discovered her HIV positive status and founded the Bolivian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (REDBOL) serving as its President in different periods including the present. Violeta led the process for the demand of antiretroviral medications in Bolivia, the elaboration and negotiation of the HIV law and currently leads the demand for inclusion of public funding for the sustainable response to HIV in Bolivia.


Violeta Ross represented Bolivia and Latin America in several global bodies. The roles of representation of Violeta include the Developing Countries NGO Delegation to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. Violeta was an adviser to the Civil Society Advisory Group for UN Women in Latin America. She was a member in the TB-HIV Working Group for the Stop TB Partnership, the WHO Civil Society Task Force and advised the Experts Advisory Group to the Medicines Patent Pool. Violeta was the Board Member for the Communities Living with the Diseases Delegation in UNITAID board until 2017.

Ross is a public speaker, writer and researcher on HIV, gender based violence, health and human rights, she writes about her experience as a rape survivor and as a woman living with HIV.

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Ms. Nkatha Njeru

Coordinator, Africa Christian Health Associations Platform (ACHAP)

Best Practices and Lessons Learned - The Case of ACHAP

Nkatha Njeru, MPH is an experienced public health specialist who has worked with the faith sector in Kenya and regionally for the past 15 years. Nkatha has extensive experience in health systems strengthening where she has worked to support non-profit organizations (especially faith-based sector) in organizational development, Policy formulation, strategic planning, human resources for health, as well as aspects of health financing. She is experienced in project design, coordination and management having provided project leadership and oversight for funding from various donor agencies and governments.

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Applesta Da Costa

Program Lead, Psychosocial Support for interventions in mental health, Human Touch, Goa, India

Optimising Health/Non Health Outcomes for Adolescents Living with HIV amid COVID-19

Applesta Da Costa is a psychologist at Human Touch Foundation, a youth focused organization based in Goa, a coastal state of India. She has considerable work experience with children and adolescents, in both clinical and non-clinical settings. 

Applesta heads the psychosocial support program for ALHIVs and young adolescents with substance use disorders through focused therapies and brief interventions. She has successfully integrated mental healthcare into HIV care continuum through screening tools and customized efficacious therapies for ALHIVs for achieving positive health outcomes.  

Previously, Applesta also provided voluntary service at Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior and District Early Intervention Centre. 

She is an avid advocate for sustainable menstrual health and hygiene and a champion for promoting menstrual cup. Applesta holds Masters in Clinical Psychology from Rajiv Gandhi University, Bangalore and is also an active member of Youth Leaders India, an initiative of UNAIDS India and Centre for Human Progress.


Fr. Richard W. Bauer

MM, BCC, LCSW, Director of Spiritual and Psychosocial Care, EDARP Kenya

Spirituality, Mental Health and Resilience during the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and HIV: Understandings and practices from EDARP

Fr. Rick Bauer is a Roman Catholic priest with the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and has been involved in support for people affected by HIV since 1982. In 1997, he came to Africa serving in Catholic care and treatment programs for people with HIV first in Tanzania, later in Namibia, and now in Kenya.

As both a priest and clinical social worker, Fr Bauer has a wide range of experience with treatment, care and support activities for holistic, comprehensive patient assessment and care and staff support. He has developed programs to integrate positive spirituality and mental health interventions into program service delivery. He serves on the Leader’s Council of the Global Network on Spirituality and Health at George Washington University and is an assistant editor for the Journal of HIV and Social Work.

Fr. Rick is currently serving as the Director of Spiritual and Psychosocial support Eastern Deanery AIDS Relief Program (EDARP) in Nairobi with over 420 staff members and 28,000 clients.

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