For thirty years now, HIV has continued to spread across all levels of our societies, killing 30 million people and infecting another 30 million. In order to realize the goal of the three zeroes – Zero New Infections, Zero AIDS Related Deaths, and Zero Discrimination and Stigma it is imperative to tackle the last one to achieve the first two. This message was brought out clearly during the 10th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (10th ICAAP) held in Busan, Korea.
A declaration by the participants of the interfaith pre-conference to the 10th ICAAP 2011, affirmed their unconditional support and conviction that faith must be made more visible and active in the response to HIV and to reverse the effects of this global pandemic. They pledged spiritual support and action based on the belief that love, compassion, forgiveness and mercy cannot be separated from people living with HIV (PLHIV). The challenges arising out of HIV need to be addressed not with anger, violence and hate, but with a deep faith and a deeper love.
Those who are living and grappling with the disease, very often feel that worse than having the disease is the way others treat them. Stigma and discrimination are based primarily on misinformation, fear and moral prejudice and fuelled by ignorance, injustice, denial and hate. Instead of encouraging stigma and discrimination, religious teachers can become a force to mitigate them.
Different faith leaders and other delegates at the Congress recommended using the holistic prevention strategy called SAVE (S-Safer Practices, A-Access to Treatment, V-Voluntary Counselling and Testing and E-Empowerment). Faith based Advocacy, Networking and Support for key affected and vulnerable populations (such as People living with HIV, MSMs, injecting drug users, transgenders, sex workers, migrants, women, and children) can go a long way in removing stigma.
Members of the conference heard with great concern the vulnerabilities experienced by people from key populations in relation to HIV. This led to a greater determination in eradicating stigma and discrimination and creating safe spaces for education and awareness on sexuality and gender, with a commitment to continue dialogue with key populations, so that all challenges can be overcome and oppressive systems of power within and outside of religious communities would be challenged.
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