Monday, December 01, 2008

World AIDS Day 2008 - Looking to the Future

This year is the 20th World AIDS Day - and as such is a time to give us pause for thought. At one level it seem like we are loosing the war - HIV infections are increasing, with no sign globally of a slow down, deaths from AIDS related illnesses remain alarmingly high, and so many of the world's poorest people have no access to treatment, care or education on how to avoid infection.

But we have also seen in the last five years one of the biggest mobilisations of resources in human history to reverse this trend, an have seen some countries where rates of new infection are in decline, numbers on treatment climb rapidly, and mortality rates drop dramatically. So, in the midst of gloom there are an increasing number of pockets of light.

But we are now in the early stages of what will probably prove to be a major and possibly prolonged global recession - so the worry inevitably is, can this response even be sustained, let alone scaled up so that the few good news stories become many? That may be the biggest cause for concern in the next two to five years. And even if we can keep the scale up of AIDS related funding, what will happen to other areas of development funding to aid poverty reduction and improvement of basic medical and educational services? Services that are going to be essential in seeing the up-scaling of AIDS funding actually having an impact on the ground.

How can equity and justice be maintained in the midst of economic turmoil? - that will be the key question in the coming year - and the answers we find and put in to practice could be the difference between life and death for millions.

The Churches have a role to play here - speaking up for justice and equity for the poor communities where they are based and minister, mobilising resources independently of governments and major donors, setting up models of best practice in care, treatment and prevention through church hospitals, local clinics, church schools, community projects and the like. Church leaders are speaking out this year in an increasingly high profile manner - but more needs to be done. Churches are being encouraged to see HIV as a spiritual and practical challenge that we are called to respond to by God. But more can be done to empower and envision churches. Leadership is the key, and the principle theme for this year's World AIDS Day.

So let this 20th Anniversary World AIDS Day be the point where we stop, reflect on what we have learned from the past, then put all our energies in to finding a result for the future.

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