Faith-based organizations will be given a major role to play in the largest ever global HIV/AIDS meeting. The 15th International AIDS Conference will take place in Bangkok, Thailand July 11-16, and will see organizations from Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Jewish religions attend. Over 100 faith-based organizations will gather together at the conference making the faith-based network the backbone of the meeting.
The faith-based organizations will look to be energetic in using art, dance and drama to show others how they have been rising to the challenge of the pandemic at grassroots level. The huge numbers of faith-based organizations attending has highlighted the vital but often unrecognized efforts that they have put in to making people aware of this problem. Through the preparations of the gathering, people have now begun to recognize the critical role these organizations play in fighting the spread of the deadly virus, and caring for those carrying it. In particular, African church members who have been heading efforts to care for people carrying the virus, especially children, are finally being recognized at this conference.
The conference will discuss options on how to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of those suffering with HIV/AIDS, and to come up with ways in which to overcome the challenges of preventing the spread of the virus. High on the agenda of the conference will also be finding ways in which to combat the stigma surrounding the virus and how to make people more aware.
In particular, it has been pointed out that churches in Africa must be helped in their aim to become more AIDS-competent. The conference will seek to do this by linking them with northern churches and agencies, hopefully enabling them easier access to information, training, networks and sources of funding.
The World Council of Churches has been very forthcoming in supporting the participation in the event by grassroots organizations. The WCC project manager, Dr. Christoph Mann and the southern Africa regional coordinator, Dr. Sue Parry of the WCC’s ‘Ecumenical HIV/AIDS Initiative in Africa’ (EHAIA) will be in attendance at the conference to show the support and guidance of the WCC for the cause.
"Faith-based communities are accountable to their people for credible information, education and support that will mobilize them as communities that are competent to face the challenge of AIDS with all the resources that are available to them - including their faith," says Dr. Manoj Kurian, who is in charge of the Health and Healing program at the WCC.
Linda Hartke, the coordinator for the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance made the point, “Faith communities and religious leaders all over the world have been judgmental and hurtful to people living with or affected by HIV and AIDS. At the same time, there are many examples of leaders who have rejected stigmatizing behavior, and communities that have embraced people who are affected. As churches, we are still struggling to accept the reality that we are all living with HIV and AIDS," she states. “We have a huge task ahead of us to build communities of faith that welcome all and judge none.”
Prior to the conference there will be a faith-based Pre-Conference meeting, which will gather together the various representatives from the churches and organizations July 9-10 under the theme “Access for all: the faith-based community responding.” This pre-conference meeting will also take place in Bangkok, and aims to bring together the direction of the organizations before the main conference gets underway.
Workshops involving over 250 global delegates will discuss a variety of issues including; the church, HIV/AIDS and sexuality, collaboration with those living with the virus, theological training on HIV/AIDS, working with the media, and encouraging different faiths to work together.
Faith-based organizations are finally being given the recognition they deserve in the fight against the pandemic, and this conference is seen as a great opportunity to bring together the ideas of many different groups to come up with a united idea on how to make bigger and speedier steps in the battle against HIV/AIDS. The ultimate goal is the same for all of the attendants in challenging and combating the virus, and hope for the Thailand Conference to open up a new era of hope.