Sheila Pires – Johannesburg, South Africa
The four-day AIDS conference is a bi-annual Conference, which focused on scientific, social and digital innovations or technologies that offer possibilities and opportunities towards controlling the HIV & AIDS epidemic. The official theme was, “Unprecedented Innovations and Technologies: HIV and change.”
Second largest HIV Conference in the world
According to organisers, this is the second largest HIV Conference in the world, attended by over 3,000 people, 25% of whom are from countries other than South Africa. The Conference is also said to be one of the most prominent medical meetings in southern Africa. Delegates include scientists, medical practitioners and representatives from the public sector, NGO and Faith-Based Organisations and the corporate world. South African representatives from the Catholic Church's Justice and Peace Commission, led by Co-Adjutor Archbishop of Durban, Abel Gabuza also participated.
In his address to the Conference, Archbishop Gabuza shared the Catholic Church's response to HIV/Aids.
The Church involved in awareness, prevention and support since 2000
According to the Archbishop, since the year 2000, the Catholic Church in South Africa has been actively engaged in programmes of awareness creation; education and prevention; home-based care; treatment adherence support; as well as care for orphaned and vulnerable children and their families. Archbishop Gabuza also highlighted different initiatives that seek to challenge men to be agents of change in the fight against the epidemic.
The Heforshe' Campaign
A successful innovation by the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) is one that is being pioneered by SACBC's Justice and Peace Commission in partnership with the United Nations (UN) Women Southern Africa Multi Country's 'Heforshe' Campaign. The latter organisation has strong advocacy in combatting gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS.
The Archbishop explained how the innovative 'Heforshe' Tavern Project of the Klerksdorp Diocese works. The campaign has identified taverns (pubs) as critical sites for progressive dialogues and action in the fight against the twin problem of gender-based violence and HIV-AIDS. Through this project, many men have been encouraged to know their HIV status. This, in turn, helps in the reduction of risky behaviours such as having multi sex partners.
Local participation crucial to the success of programmes
Vital to the success of the project was the support and accompaniment received from the owners of taverns, Justice and Peace community activists as well as the help of the local clinic personnel.
Archbishop Gabuza introduced some of the participating members from Klerksdorp who shared with the Conference how tavern dialogues are conducted. Among those also introduced were tavern owners.
A passionate plea for young people at risk or already living with HIV
There are an estimated 7.4 million South Africans living with HIV, among whom 4.9 million are accessing antiretroviral therapy treatment. According to the Human Sciences Research Council, over 250,000 new HIV infections occur in South Africa annually, with 88,000 new cases of infection amongst youth between 15 and 24 years of age.
Archbishop Gabuza expressed his concern regarding a large number of young people living with HIV and Aids in South Africa. He said it was time to stop preaching and take action to help this generation.