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Religious leaders clear: AIDS response must be strengthened

6. June 2011

    Leaders and representatives of faith-based organizations long engaged in the response to AIDS are calling on governments to redouble their efforts to tackle the disease.

    Thirty years after the appearance of the first medical reports about a new illness, government representatives will be meeting at the United Nations in New York City, 8-10 June, to review progress since the 2001 UN Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS. Amid fears that political will may weaken as governments redirect funding, religious representatives are joining civil society campaigners and organizations responding to the complex pandemic to emphasize that while some progress has been made, it is not enough. Treatment and support services remain inaccessible to millions, and root causes to the pandemic – such as stigma, discrimination, poverty and marginalization – remain.

    "We cannot weaken our efforts. We cannot reduce our funding. We cannot soften our words calling for the rights of those most affected and most vulnerable to receive the care, support and treatment they need," stated the Right Rev. Gunnar Stålsett, Moderator of the European Council of Religious Leaders and Bishop Emeritus of Oslo.

    An interfaith prayer breakfast on Friday, June 10 will bring together leaders from religious and civil society organizations, government, and networks of people living with HIV to reaffirm the need for action and solidarity with people living with, and affected by HIV.

    "As religious leaders and religious organizations, our demands to intensify efforts to provide access for all to prevention, care, treatment and support come not just out of compassion and our recognition of the inherent human dignity of all people, but from our long experience and practical work on the ground with the poor and most vulnerable,” stated Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly and co-moderator of the interfaith prayer breakfast along with Bishop Stålsett. She emphasized, “The leadership and voice of people living with HIV, and those most affected, must be respected as we seek to bring down the barriers that still remain in our society and still contribute to stigma, discrimination, silence, and death.”

    Faith-based events during the High Level Meeting, New York:

    Interfaith prayer breakfast – by invitation only

    Friday, 10 June, 8:00–9:30 am, Ford Foundation
    Religious leaders will dialogue with United Nations, government and community leaders on how strategic partnerships can be built and strengthened so that Universal Access becomes a reality for all in our countries by 2015.

    Co-organized by Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, UNFPA, UNAIDS and a number of religious organizations and hosted by the Ford Foundation.
    Contact: Becky Johnson (bjohnson@e-alliance.ch, Mobile: +1-702-994-5524)

    Faith-based action to achieve universal access: Confronting the impact of funding cutbacks and advocating for the special needs of mothers and children living with HIV

    Wednesday, 8 June, 1:00–2:30 pm (program); 12.00–1.00 pm (lunch) Holy Family Church Auditorium, 323 East 47th Street, New York City
    Panelists will focus on the impact of funding challenges by reporting on a recent study among Catholic Church-sponsored programs. They will pay special attention to the promotion of access to prevention, care, treatment and support for mothers and children and women living with or affected by HIV.

    Organized by Catholic HIV/AIDS Network, Caritas Internationalis, Catholic Medical Mission Board
    Pre-registration requested Contact: Msgr. Robert Vitillo (rvitillo@caritas-internationalis.com)

    Faith-based organizations in HIV prevention for men who have sex with men and transgender populations
    Friday, June 10, 1:15-2:30pm, NLB Conference Room C.
    This panel discussion will show that faith-based organizations (FBOs) and MSM/transgender populations are not an impossible combination. FBOs can and do play an important role in delivering prevention services that reduce HIV transmission among MSMs and transgenders.

    Organized by the government of Sweden, the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, and the Church of Sweden.
    Contact: Maria Sjödin (maria.sjodin@rfsl.se) and Gunilla Hallonsten (Gunilla.Hallonsten@svenskakyrkan.se

    For more information and for interviews with religious leaders contact: 
    Sara Speicher, 
    Becky Johnson (in New York), bjohnson@e-alliance.ch  Mobile: +1-702-994-5524

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance is a broad international network of churches and Christian organizations cooperating in advocacy on food and HIV and AIDS. The Alliance is based in Geneva, Switzerland. For more information, see http://www.e-alliance.ch/

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