Forum on HIV/AIDS and hunger cites importance of faith groups

By John Zarocostas
Posted Mar 1, 2012

[Ecumenical News International, Geneva] Senior U.N. officials, business leaders, and development experts on Feb. 29 praised faith groups’ support of global efforts to fight HIV/AIDS and hunger but also stressed their continued support was vital in confronting daunting challenges ahead.

During the forum, which was held at the Geneva headquarters of the World Health Organization and included the participation of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, participants also praised the strong human rights-based approach taken by faith groups.

Challenges ahead, they said, include new threats posed by climate change and how to increase food output to feed an extra two billion people as the world’s population is projected to increase to nine billion by 2050.

“We are counting on our faith-based partners and their networks to fight this disease (HIV/AIDS),” said Dr. Debrework Zewdie, deputy executive director at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

“Without them, the millions of people that depend on us would not be reached,” Zewdie noted. She also thanked groups such as the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) for raising funds to fight infectious diseases in Africa such as malaria.

But she also pointed out faith organizations play a major role in helping communities in developing countries increase testing for HIV and in fighting stigmatization of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Williams said that for the faith communities, testing and tackling issues of stigmatization and marginalization is key.

Jon Pender, a vice president of pharmaceutical group GlaxoSmithKline told delegates the role of faith-based groups is vital in delivering care and treatment. Ellen ‘t Hoen, executive director of the Medicines Patent Pool, which works to improve access to treatment, said the strong support by faith organizations for corporate social responsibility has played an important role in helping to secure life-saving antiretroviral medicines.

With regards to fighting hunger, David Nabarro, U.N. special representative for food security and nutrition, emphasized that one-third of the world’s children are chronically malnourished, and new threats of climate change pose serious challenges across the globe.

Peter Prove, executive director of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), highlighted that finding ways to reduce food waste by consumers should not be overlooked.

Williams remarked that faith communities exist “to help continuously.” He also said that an excessive focus on short-term results “is the enemy,” and argued on the need to focus on sustainable production.

Forum organizers included EAA and members Brot fur Alle, Caritas, LWF, World Alliance of YMCAs, World Student Christian Federation and World Vision International, in collaboration with the World Council of Churches and the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom.