(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) The Caribbean Faith Leaders Consultation, held on 1-2 February 2017 in Trinidad and Tobago, concluded with strategic recommendations to improve the overall quality of life of People Living with and Affected by HIV and AIDS.
The Consultation, which was supported by the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and AIDS HealthCare Foundation, attracted 55 Religious Leaders from 14 Caribbean countries, representing Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Bahá’í, Voodoo faiths, PANCAP, United Nations representatives and regional officials also participated.
The initiative was coordinated by the Planning Committee of Religious Leaders and PANCAP, and focused on the theme, ‘Religious Leaders’ Contribution to the End of AIDS by 2030’.
Head of the Planning Committee, Canon Garth Minott stated ‘leaders were mindful that our common religious heritage positioned us to engage in discussions about faith, justice, love and peace, mindful that we are one family under God’.
In her feature address during the opening ceremony on Tuesday, Hon. Ayanna Webster-Roy, Minister of State within the Office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago pointed to her country’s commitment at the highest level to the aims of the conference. She noted that there are faith-based representatives on the recently re-established National AIDS Coordinating Committee (NACC) under the umbrella of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Dr Edward Greene, United Nations Secretary-General Special Envoy for HIV in the Caribbean brought greetings on behalf of the Secretary-General and highlighted the imperatives for fast-tracking the response to AIDS. The issues reflected in the remarks of Dr Kevin Harvey, Regional Director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), including focus of AHF on strengthening partnerships with special reference to supporting a coordinated approach to the implementation of the recommendations from the consultation. Mr Dereck Springer, Director of the PANCAP Coordinating Unit, brought greetings on behalf of the CARICOM Secretary-General and expressed appreciation for the collaboration with The Global Fund and the support of AHF and UNAIDS.
In his Keynote address, Prof. Clive Landis, Deputy Principal, The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, identified the major scientific developments leading to the conclusion that anti-retroviral therapy (ART) delivers a life-saving benefit to persons living with HIV by abolishing end-stage AIDS.
Rev. Phumzile Mabizela, Executive Director International Network of Religious Leaders Living With or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (INERELA+) giving an inspiring feature address, shared her experience as a faith leader who is also HIV positive. She encouraged religious leaders to see themselves as a positive force for change and advocated for removing policy and legislative barriers to effectively deal with HIV.
Dr Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director, UNAIDS gave the closing address and urged participants to remain committed to the very bold recommendations. ‘Today we have the science to end this epidemic’, stated Dr. Loures, ‘what we lack is the social movement and will of communities. We need you in the faith community more than ever before. We know that religious organisations hold positions of trust at the center of communities. This makes you uniquely positioned to provide services and support that extend beyond the reach of many public health systems. Through ongoing training and sharing, your capacity will be strengthened. UNAIDS is committed to supporting this process’.
Dr Loures further stated ‘as faith leaders you have a powerful impact on the way communities think and act. Your work to address stigma and discrimination in the wider community is critical. As you have affirmed during this consultation, HIV is a virus not a moral judgement. I urge all partners to collaborate and contribute based on our shared values relating to the inherent value of life, human dignity and compassion’.
Two extended periods of working groups and discussions by religious and lay leaders resulted in the following recommendations:
Endorsing the Targets in the 2016 UN High Level Political Declaration to fast-track the end of the AIDS epidemic by 2030;
Promoting healthy living of people at all ages of the life cycle by placing emphasis on plugging the prevention gaps includes stressing family values, age appropriate sexual education, creative communication approaches and the dissemination of information to reach various audiences;
Facilitating best practices through the process for effective support and leadership in the area of treatment and care, paying particular attention to achieving the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets for 90% of persons living with HIV (PLHIV) to know their status, 90% of those who have tested HIV positive to be on treatment and 90% of those on treatment to achieve undetectable viral loads
Paying particular attention to actions that address the reduction of violence against women, girls and adolescents and the inclusion of men and boys in this venture;
Seeking to secure sustainable technical and financial resources for programmes led by FBOs through shared responsibility and collaboration with government and non-governmental stakeholders and development partners;
Exploring the short and medium-term actionable recommendations of the PANCAP Justice for All (JFA) Roadmap, especially in so far as they enable religious groups and organisations to effectively address the gaps in prevention and treatment interventions and continuing the dialogue on how to proceed with those elements yet to be resolved;
Establishing the foundations of a Network of Religious Leaders interconnected with national focal groups to achieve a more consolidated approach to ending AIDS with a mechanism for effective communication and dissemination of information;
Seeking to engage representatives of key populations including men who have sex with men, sex workers, drug users and others in programmes aimed at identifying respective rights and responsibilities involved in the process toward the elimination of AIDS-related stigma and discrimination;
Noting areas of litigation that may challenge religious values and the responses required to harmonise principles and practices around human rights, human sexuality and human dignity.
At the conclusion of the Consultation, Faith Leaders agreed to 1) Establish a Regional consultative group working virtually toward the implementation of the recommendations 2) Discuss the recommendations for action with their national religious councils and provide a progress report to the regional consultative group by 1 July 2017 3) Share information on activities initially using the PANCAP website and 4) Consider the possibility of follow up regional workshops, ‘think tanks’ and consultations.
The Director of the PANCAP Coordinating Unit in his final remarks charged the religious leaders with upholding the recommendations of the Consultation and urged them to continue their efforts to engage People Living with and Affected by HIV and AIDS.