The Forum, Intensifying HIV Prevention, Leading up to World AIDS Day 2005 was held on Wednesday, November 30, 2005 in Conference Room 3, UN HQ, New York from 1:15 -3:00 pm. It was sponsored and organized by UNAIDS, WFWPI (Women's Federation for World Peace International) and IIFWP (Interreligious International Federation for World Peace). It was sponsored and organized by UNAIDS, WFWPI (Women's Federation for World Peace International) and IIFWP (Interreligious International Federation for World Peace).
Ms. Zahra Nuru, Director and Senior Adviser to the Under Secretary General and High Representative of OHRLLS (Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States ) moderated the forum.
Ms. Motoko Sugiyama, WFWPI Vice President and Director of the UN Office delivered welcoming remarks as cochair of the forum organizing committee. She explained that the forum is a part of a week long campaign organized by UNAIDS surrounding World AIDS Day, December 1. She thanked all the NGO cosponsors, members of the NGO Committee on HIV/AIDS, including Balri Gilead, International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Science, Maryknoll Missions, UNANIMA International, WAGGGS: Zenab for Women in Development Inc. as well as the supporting Missions, Burundi , Equatorial Guinea , Malawi , Nigeria , Tuvalu and Zambia .
The forum covered three topics:
- Introduction and Review of the UNAIDS Policy Position Paper by Dr. Desmond Johns, Director of UNAIDS, New York .
- Addressing the Human Barriers to Scaling up HIV Prevention through Alliances by Mr. George M. Querie, IIFWP Director of HIV/AIDS Prevention Initiative, Abuja, Nigeria.
- Actions Central to HIV Prevention at Work in the Field.
- Practice I - by H.E. Mr. Brown B. Chimphamba., UN Ambassador from Malawi
- Practice II - by Ms. Fatima Ahmed, President, Zenab for Women in Development Inc.
Dr. Desmond Johns gave a PowerPoint presentation entitled "New Opportunities for Intensifying HIV Prevention" produced by UNAIDS. The presentation focused on what has been gained through twenty years of experience and evidence, HIV Prevention works, HIV Treatment, Links between HIV and sexual/reproductive health, new resources for prevention. Dr. Johns stressed that the UN's recommendation for the A-B-C prevention method (A-Abstinence, B-Be faithful, C-Condom) is that all three components be implemented together and no one aspect should be emphasized to the exclusion of the others because the ABC method has the most successful outcome when implemented as one integrated whole. The essential policy for HIV Prevention is that everyone must be aware of their own and others' responsibilities. Plans for addressing this issue must be based on each national situation. If we don't properly address the problem, 30 million young people, especially young women will be affected. If we do what we should, there is hope for the future. (Download Dr. Johns' PowerPoint slides)
Mr. George M. Ogurie stated that there are barriers to effective HIV prevention. They range from lack of governmental disposition and will to tackle the problem to cultural and attitudinal factors within a given society. Generally, these barriers could be described as "Human Barriers". Scaling up HIV prevention will involve dealing with these barriers at their root. The report of Rapid Assessment in Selected Local Government Areas of Lagos State, Nigeria, summarized that there is generally a high level of awareness about HIV/AIDS among the population but a very low level of behavior change in response to the awareness.
Mr. Ogurie's presentation was based on IIFWP's program "Living Aids Free" given in schools and churches in Nigeria over the past several years. He introduced a unique approach to AIDS awareness education that includes character education. This approach encourages young people to practice abstinence before marriage and faithfulness within marriage. It is allied with the universal value that is a tenet of every major religion that all human beings are both spiritual and physical and require proper care and discipline for the development of both mind and body. A person of good character is likely to be better equipped to establish harmonious relationships with others which can lead to a lasting marriage. Having an ideal for marriage and family can also be a motivation for self-discipline in sexual behavior. This program encourages students to consider their future life goals and their future responsibilities as spouses and parents for their own families. The "Living AIDS Free" approach introduces the concept of true love which involves living for the sake of others. If an HIV positive person has a heart of true love, that person would be very conscious about conducting himself/herself in a manner that would pose the minimum risk to others. This program reflects a fundamental and essential approach for the scaling up of HIV prevention.
H.E. Mr. Brown B. Chimphanba, gave an overview of the epidemic situation in Malawi . He reported that one million people are living with HIV there. Every year around 110,000 people become infected with HIV in Malawi . Every year around 86,000 people die of AIDS related complications in Malawi .
"A person of good character is likely to be better equipped to establish harmonious relationships with others which can lead to a lasting marriage. Having an ideal for marriage and family can also be a motivation for self-discipline in sexual behavior." George M. Ogurie
Over 650,000 people have died of AIDS since the first case was diagnosed in May 1985. Every year 7,000 children become orphans, adding to the pool of about 850,000 orphans 45% of whom are orphaned due to HIV/ AIDS. Ambassador Chimphamba stressed that with no cure in sight, prevention remains the cornerstone to controlling the spread of the epidemic. Because of this, the government of Malawi encourages the involvement of all sectors of society to promote reduction of high risk sexual behavior. He also informed us about the institutional framework in Malawi which includes the Cabinet Committee on HIV/ AIDS and the National AIDS Commission which has a Board of Commissioners from faith-based organizations, the business community, civil society and NGOs. The focus of prevention programs is to involve all sectors of society to promote interventions that reduce high risk sexual behavior, enable people to know their HIV status through voluntary counseling and testing and teach people how to protect themselves and others.
Ms. Fatima Ahmed agreed that prevention is still the key to controlling the epidemic because there is no cure and millions of people living with HIV/AIDS do not have access to any kind of medical treatment. More effort must be made to scale up prevention, especially for vulnerable groups including youth. She reported on the HIV/AIDS situation in her country of Sudan . Sudan is conservative in nature. Culture and religion play a very important role in people's lives. The good interaction between different religious groups and the strong family ties and values have kept the rate of HIV/AIDS infesction very low compared to other Northern African countries. However, because of the civil war in the south, family structures are being destroyed and women and children are becoming more vulnerable to HIV infection. The first case was diagnosed in 1989. Now more than 100,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Sudan .
She introduced the missions of her organization, Zenab for Women in Development's (ZWD). They are: empowerment of women's livelihoods, advocacy for women's rights, promotion of girls' education and education for children with special needs; embracing the reproductive health of women and fighting against bad traditions like FGM as well as fighting the outbreak of HIV/AIDS. She told us that ZWD arranges classes and lectures for high school boys to raise awareness about the dangers of HIV/AIDS because many men engage in sexual activity outside of marriage. In most cases they bring the virus to the women and girls, so the strategy of working with men and boys is a key strategy for prevention.
As the forum came to an end, it became clear that intensification of HIV prevention is the very key to solving this serious issue, which is in agreement with the conclusion of the UNAIDS policy position paper "Intensifying HIV Prevention", produced after the 17th meeting of the UNAIDS Programme Coordination Board (PCB) in June 2005.
Mr. Ricardo de Sena of IIFWP, member of the forum organizing committee gave closing remarks, expressing deep appreciation to the moderators and panelists for their marvelous job with this forum and also to the 150 participants (half of whom were from the UN system). Then he picked up his guitar, asked us all to hold hands and we sang "We Shall Overcome" with the determination to overcome "HIV/AIDS".