Increased Partnership between Faith-Based Organizations, Governments and Inter-Governmental Organizations

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STATEMENT BY FAITH-BASED ORGANIZATIONS FACILITATED BY THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES FOR THE UN SPECIAL GENERAL ASSEMBLY ON HIV/AIDS JUNE 25 - 27, 2001

HIV/AIDS has been correctly described as the greatest threat to human well-being and public health in modern times. Millions of people have already died from this disease and millions more are directly or indirectly affected by this global pandemic. The faith-based organizations (FBOs) presenting this statement wish to express their appreciation and respect to the United Nations for organizing this timely and most important Special General Assembly. They are committing themselves to support all efforts already undertaken by governments, non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations to alleviate the human suffering caused by this pandemic and to prevent its further spread.

We are acutely aware of the complex nature of the infection and its root causes that have fuelled this pandemic, such as global socio-economic inequalities, marginalization of vulnerable people, poverty and gender issues. It has become increasingly apparent that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS rises as a consequence of poverty and then indeed causes poverty. Women often bare a triple burden as a result of HIV/AIDS;

a. they are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection due to biological and social factors including their lack of rights in regard to self-determination in sexual relationships

b. if HIV positive often face a greater degree of discrimination when trying to access treatment, looking after children etc.

c. they are the traditional caregivers to the sick and the orphans. Indeed poverty and gender are inextricably linked.

Women and girls are disproportionately represented in the poor. Men carry a special responsibility to change these factors.

We are joining the many other actors in the global fight against this devastating pandemic and offer their specific resources and strengths. At the same time we acknowledge that we have not always responded appropriately to the challenges posed by HIV/AIDS. We regret deeply instances where FBOs have contributed to stigma, fear and misinformation. However, it is also fair to say that FBOs often have played a positive role in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. Countries such as Senegal, Uganda, and Thailand which have involved religious leaders early on in the planning and implementation of national AIDS strategies, have seen dramatic changes in the course of the epidemic. For example, religious communities in Uganda, working hand in hand with AIDS service organizations and the government, have championed peer education, counselling and home care programmes. A church leader has led the National AIDS Commission in Uganda since 1995. In Uganda, Zambia and Tanzania, prevention efforts have resulted in changed sexu al behaviour including delayed sexual activity among adolescents, and a reduction in the number of sexual partners. These factors have been part of the message of many FBOs. In Thailand Buddhist and Christian groups have introduced home based care services and greatly contributed to the destigmatisation of the disease.

Right from the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis, local communities have been at the very forefront of caring for those affected by HIV/AIDS. Faith-based organizations are rooted in local structures and are therefore in an excellent position to mobilize communities to respond to the HIV/AIDS crisis. In many cases, religious organizations have been among the first to respond to the basic needs of people affected by the disease, and indeed pioneered much of the community based work. And yet these faith-based organizations are often overlooked. More often than not, the capacity of FBOs has not been maximized because they have not received adequate levels of training or resources to address the impact of the disease.

We have learnt that prevention works provided there is openness and dialogue. …

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