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Africa: AIDS, Frontline Voices

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Dec 1, 2003 (031201)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Leaders of the All Africa Conference of Churches, meeting in Cameroon last week, pledged to "undertake prophetic advocacy until anti-retrovirals are available to all who need them; have zero tolerance for stigma and discrimination against HIV-positive persons, and do whatever possible to eliminate the isolation, rejection, fear and oppression of the infected and affected in the community." Hundreds of the delegates responded to a call to come forward for testing for HIV.

This issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin contains two reports from that meeting, as well as a World AIDS Day statement from the Pan African Treatment Action Movement (PATAM). These voices from groups on the frontlines against the pandemic represent a new upsurge in public advocacy for action. Indeed World AIDS Day 2003 marks a sharp increase in the number of statements, events, and media specials across the globe (see the lengthy tally at http://www.unaids.org, itself only a small sampling).

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin today includes key excerpts from the latest announcement of new commitments by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization to bring treatment to 3 million people by the end of 2005. Rich countries, however, have still not committed the resources that would be necessary to make this happen. The latest report from UNAIDS on the status of the pandemic is available at http://www.unaids.org

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Visit http://www.africafocus.org to make your payment or find out other ways to provide support. At this new website you will also find a searchable archive of AfricaFocus Bulletin, customized news feeds from AllAfrica.com and BBC Africa, and more.

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"Relieve the Burden on Our Grandparents, Brothers, Sisters - Provide Anti-Retroviral Therapy to All in Need!"

Pan-African Treatment Access Movement (PATAM)

Press release 1 December 2003

On this World Aids Day, the Pan-African Treatment Access Treatment Movement (PATAM), a grassroots social movement for access to anti-retroviral therapy and other essential medicines extends a hand to our grandparents, brothers, sisters, friends and many others in our communities who relentlessly bear the brunt of the epidemic with unending fortitude. They are the ones whose attention does not stray away from those who lie immobile, as their bodies slowly succumb to the wiles of the HI virus. They are the young who are forced to stop attending school so that they can look after their even younger brothers and sisters because mum and dad have long died of Aids. We salute you!

In assessing the state of HIV/AIDS in the world towards the end of 2003, a joint report by the UNAIDS and World Health Programme (WHO) castes a rather grim picture noting that:

"Sub-Saharan Africa remains by far the region worst-affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In 2003, an estimated 26.6 million people in this region were living with HIV, including the 3.2 million who became infected during the past year. AIDS killed approximately 2.3 million people in 2003."

It is indeed obvious that the pandemic is wreaking havoc in our communities as is evidenced in the anguish too harrowing to wish on our worst enemies as day after day funerals claim the young and most promising in our villages, in our townships and even in the exclusive neighbourhoods of those among us who have ýmade it."

We do not wish though to dwell on these images but prefer to take note of the many encouraging gains made largely due to the tireless efforts. We need to focus our attention on renewed commitment to ensure that those who need anti-retroviral therapy receive it without prejudice.

In the past half-year we have seen actions that present much hope to those living with HIV. We highlight a few:

Recognition that Intellectual Property Rights Undermine Public Health Needs

Days before the official opening of the World Trade OrganisationÝs (WT0) Fifth Ministerial Conference in Cancun, Mexico a compromise decision was reached by trade ministers stipulating that member states of the WTO with no manufacturing capacity facing public health crises could import generic medicines manufactured in a secondary country where the medicines are patented.The agreement also recognises that economies of scale are critical in driving down prices so therefore permits countries within a regional trade agreement to export medicines produced locally or imported under a compulsory license to other members, even if the quantity of exports outweighs the quantity of medicines imported or produced for local demand.

Though there are numerous problems lurking in the detail of the agreement such as onerous conditions that have be to be imposed before importation will be permitted, this is a small victory in a larger struggle. We take note of CanadaÝs brave step as the first wealthy country to give effect to this decision by introducing legislation to amend its patent act to enable it to export generic medicines to poor countries. We strongly urge Canada to move faster to allow the newly passed legislation to be immediately translated into provision of generic medications for all who need them.

Reduction in Drug prices

As a result of enormous pressure by activists, major pharmaceutical companies have reduced drug prices to levels close to those charged by generic drug manufacturers.

Similarly, towards the end of October, the Clinton Foundation announced it had brokered a landmark deal with four generic drug companies that would bring down the cost of triple therapy drug combinations to under $140 per person per year in African and Caribbean countries.

While these changes are welcome, we are not put pressure to ensure further reductions.

Increased Political Will

Across the continent there have been encouraging actions by governments and others in positions of influence that suggest that the pandemic is receiving the serious attention it demands. Treatment is now generally accepted as a requisite component in a comprehensive response to HIV/Aids. We especially flag the recent announcement by the South African government that it had accepted an operational plan for the rollout of anti-retroviral medicines, which is envisaged will be one of the largest public sector programmes in the world by 2010. This is commendable on two counts. First South Africa has the highest infection rates in the world with 5.3 million people estimated to be living with HIV. Secondly, as a one of the most influential countries on the continent this sends an excellent signal to other African nations.

Mushrooming of Grassroots Social Movements

Over the last year individuals from all walks of life but especially those most infected and affected by the pandemic have come together to form a formidable force advocating for treatment access. The diversity of membership consisting of activists from trade unions, groups of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWAs), community-based organisations, faith-based formations and many more is a clear indicator that Aids is now more than ever everyone's struggle.

We hold no illusion that the struggle ahead is difficult, but failure is not an option. We will overcome. We ask our allies across the world to stand steadfast with us as they do now and invite all who understand that the struggle for treatment access is fundamentally one about the sanctity of life and therefore one about a vision for a more equitable and just world to join us.

A luta continua!

For Further Information Contact the PATAM Steering Group

Lubna El Tabei Tel: +20-10-669-3346 Egypt
Delme Cupido Tel: +264-61-223-356 Namibia
Othoman Mellouk Tel: +212-66-45-28-11 Morocco
Moyo Matilda Tel: +263-11-702-205 Zimbabwe
James Kamau Tel: +254-722-886-694 Kenya
Grace Muro Tel: + 255-22-211-7088 Tanzania
Djueche Sylanie Laurie Tel: +237-775-6993 Cameroon
Ambroise Mamona Tel: +242-213-036 Congo Brazzaville
Ako Cyriaque Tel: +225-235-04927 Cote d'Ivoire
Rolake Nwagwu Tel: +234-1-773-1457 Nigeria


Africa's Churches On the March Against HIV/AIDS

November 26, 2003

AACC Media Team: (011) 237 966 3059 or 3063

[From the Worldwide Faith News archives http://www.wfn.org For more information on the All Africa Conference of Churches see also http://www.aacc-ceta.org]

November 26, 2003, Yaounde, Cameroon -- On a day in which emotions ran the gamut from gloom through compassion to hope and celebration, delegates to the 8th Assembly of the All Africa Conference of Churches today (Nov. 26) devoted their attention to the pandemic of HIV/AIDS that is sweeping the continent.

The statistics are bad enough - 20 million people already dead, 14 million children orphaned, 14,000 new infections every day, 2.8 million children under the age of 15 infected in sub-Saharan Africa.

In many places on the continent, these incomprehensible figures are made worse by the stigma and discrimination that are experienced by people with faces and names who have disclosed their HIV-positive status.

The Assembly heard from pastors and priests who are living with the virus in churches that sometimes still think of HIV/AIDS as God's punishment for sin; from a young Cameroonian man whose disclosure that he was sero- positive meant the end of his relationship with his girlfriend, the mother of his child; from a Congolese mother of five who was ejected from her home and stripped of most of her possessions by her husband's family, who blamed her for his death.

Others living with the virus told of amazing support from their church communities and of support groups that were organizing for mutual care and advocacy. The Assembly received with joy stories of people who were living full lives despite carrying the virus for over a decade, and of a couple who have been blessed with a child, despite the father's sero-positive status.

Hope rose when the delegates received news of the partner organizations committed to working with the African church at local, national, regional and continental levels who stood ready to commit human and financial resources to the tasks of behavior formation and modification, the provision of affordable or free anti-retrovirals and the support for caregivers of all ages, especially the aged and very young.

Confidence that, with God on our side, HIV/AIDS can be managed and will ultimately be defeated found its expression in a candlelight procession through the streets of Yaounde and the adoption of a 10-point Covenant on HIV/AIDS by the delegates.

Dave Wanless - AACC


African Churches Detail 10-Point Plan for Addressing HIV/AIDS

November 26, 2003

AACC Media Team: (011) 237 966 3059 or 3063

[From the Worldwide Faith News archives http://www.wfn.org]

November 26, 2003, Yaounde, Cameroon - African church leaders from across the continent prayed, sang and spoke out boldly today (Nov. 26) during a day of reflection on HIV/AIDS and of commitment to defeat it.

Delegates to the All Africa Conference of Churches 8th Assembly, meeting here Nov. 22-27, reviewed the dire facts and figures, heard testimonies from HIV-positive clergy and laity and adopted a 10-point "covenant" for fighting the pandemic that includes the demand for affordable HIV/AIDS drugs including anti-retrovirals for all who need them.

To dramatize the importance of HIV screening, the Assembly offered free, voluntary on-site testing. More people than expected came for testing, on-site clinic staff confirmed. 105 of the Assembly's some 800 participants were tested and, when supplies ran out, others were given vouchers for the next day.

"As far as we are concerned, this is war," said the Rev. Dr. Mvume Dandala, General Secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, meeting here in its 8th Assembly Nov. 22-27. "We declare unequivocally that HIV/AIDS is not the will of God for Africa we will try with all we have to resist it."

At a candlelight vigil and service Wednesday evening (Nov. 26), he had strong words for international pharmaceutical companies and for countries in the northern hemisphere that are falling short in their support to the Global Fund.

"The church must resist an tendency by the pharmaceutical companies to see Africa as an open market" for HIV/AIDS drugs because of the virus' prevalence on the continent, he said. If that's the way the pharmaceuticals see Africa, Dandala said, "it's a sign of their moral bankruptcy."

The AACC meets in Assembly every five years or so. The last Assembly was held in 1997 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The All Africa Conference of Churches is Africa's most comprehensive ecumenical organization, with 169 national member denominations and 27 national ecumenical councils - comprising 120 million Christians in 39 countries.

For this evening's candlelight vigil, three phalanxes of about 1,000 persons each processed on foot from three downtown Yaounde intersections to the headquarters of the Federation of Protestant Churches and Missions in Cameroon, the nation's ecumenical council. AACC Assembly delegates came by bus from their meeting site.

HIV/AIDS an "Insidious Terrorist," Minister of Health Says

Addresses included words from Cameroon's Minister of Health, Urbain Olanguena Owono, who praised the churches' comprehensive commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS, to working against stigmatization of people with HIV/AIDS, and to extending care and compassion to the HIV/AIDS infected and affected.

"HIV/AIDS is the most awful and insidious destroyer of African life," he said. "If we don't stop this insidious terrorist, all our development efforts may be in vain."

Delegates stood to adopt a 10-point AACC covenant, which Dandala described as "a guiding document for all our churches as well as a position paper

that is going to give guidance to the kind of response the church has to give to the HIV/AIDS pandemic."

"Africa is more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS because of poverty, inadequate health systems and "the unquestionable truth that the lack of access to ARVs by the African people exacerbates the problem," he said. "Gathered here together with our partners from around the world, we want to declare our commitment to seeking ourselves to find solutions in Africa that will help all Africans resist this pandemic."

Dandala called for more research dollars for Africa's scientists seeking treatments and a cure, and for strengthening of Africa's health services - 40 percent of which are in the hands of the church.

In the 10-point AACC covenant, delegates pledged to:

* undertake HIV prevention for all people - Christian and non-Christian, married and single, young and old, women and men, poor and rich, black, white, yellow, all people everywhere;

* do all that is necessary to encourage both men and women to love, care, support and heal all infected and affected in communities throughout the continent;

* undertake prophetic advocacy until anti-retrovirals are available to all who need them; have zero tolerance for stigma and discrimination against HIV-positive persons, and do whatever possible to eliminate the isolation, rejection, fear and oppression of the infected and affected in the community;

* work to empower the poor and denounce all laws and policies that have condemned billions to poverty, thus denying them their God-given rights, as well as quality care and treatment;

* denounce gender inequalities that lead men and boys to risky sexual behaviour, domination and violence and that deny girls and women decision making powers in sexual matters, deprive them of property rights and expose them to violence;

* empower and protect all children, denouncing laws and policies that expose them to sexual abuse and exploitation;

* become a community of compassion and healing, an place for all People Living with AIDS to live openly and productively;

* test for infection, abstain before marriage, be faithful in marriage and practice protected sex, for prevention should be seriously pursued to protect life;

* declare jubilee and proclaim liberty, for until justice is served to all people, until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream, HIV/AIDS cannot be uprooted.

Carol Fouke with Dave Wanless AACC


AfricaFocus Bulletin is a free independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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