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Christian theologians address HIV prevention with truth and hope

4. February 2008

    “Epidemics are moments of truth, when both knowledge and power are unveiled”, stated Dr Neville Hicks, Uniting Church, Australia, setting the tone for the global theological consultation on HIV prevention held this week in South Africa.

    By the end of the consultation, Rev. Japé Heath of ANERELA+ (African Network of  Religious Leaders living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS) said: “Within the group there was an incredible experience and reality of listening and being listened to - from people of different denominations, different continents, different cultures as well as clearly listening to people living with HIV”.

    The consultation, convened by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, brought together 35 theologians, ethicists, practitioners and Christians living with HIV. It provided a valuable opportunity for a diverse group representing many countries and church traditions to have a frank and open discussion, in a safe space, of key and sensitive topics around HIV prevention. The focus of this group was to share how Christian faith and practice can deepen engagement, compassion, and effectiveness in HIV prevention efforts -- not simply by a focus on personal behavior, but by addressing the wider social, political and economic injustices in society which make some people more vulnerable to HIV infection.

    Atieno Odenyo, regional partnerships advisor for UNAIDS in Eastern and Southern Africa, emphasized the roles and responsibilities of faith communities in the international HIV arena.  She challenged churches and faith communities to be involved in HIV prevention on the global, national, community and individual level.

    Prof. Bryan Massingale from the USA described the consultation as a “moment of hope for the church to articulate a framework to more effectively address the issues of prevention”.   The report of the consultation will be an important tool to catalyze further theological reflection and networking, building on the long and active involvement of faith-based organizations in the response to HTIV and AIDS.

    “We were called here to break the silence” stated participants from South America leading worship, who reminded those present that “we were called together not by a virus, we were gathered not by a disease – but by Christ speaking into our context and situation.”

    When finalized, the report of the meeting will be available from the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (info@e-alliance.ch) and posted on the website: www.e-alliance.ch

    The consultation was supported financially by nine organizations (church-related, foundations, and UN agencies) and was hosted locally by CABSA (the Christian AIDS Bureau for Southern Africa).

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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