Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Interfaith Pre-Conference 2008 "Reclaiming the Rights of Children Affected and Living with HIV/AIDS" in Asia

Prior to the 17th International AIDS Conference due to be held in Mexico in August 2008, the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) together with Asian Interfaith Network on HIV/AIDS (AINA), the Church of Christ in Thailand AIDS Ministry (CAM)and other NGO's organized an inclusive 5 day Pre-Conference addressing the concerns of children's rights.
The Pre-Conference was attended by 78 religious leaders representing 11 countries within Asia. As the title states this was an interfaith conference with Buddhist, Christians, Muslims and Hindus sharing experiences and resources to achieve a common goal of reclaiming rights of children affected by HIV/AIDS.

Children are a vulnerable part of society with very little input in their own lives. Religous leaders are at the forefront to make a serious impact with the lives of children. Everyday there are approximately 1,800 children infected with HIV/AIDS who are under age 15.

The majority of these children are infected via mother to child transmission. This crucial situation in terms of well-being for children put many questions in front of faith communities and families and need to be addressed adequately.

HIV/AIDS is a critical challenge for religious communities and demands their concern and commitment now more than ever before. It is not only a health crisis, but a dilemma that affects basic human dignity and rights, including the right to live, be healthy and access public services.

The keynote speaker Ms.Win Sie Cheng from "UNICEF" addressed the conference with some key points. She stated that the primary mode of transmission of HIV/AIDS in Asia is sexual contact, ie, men having sex with men (MSM)and female sex workers (FSW) with clients transmitting the virus onto their spouses and their children. Ms Cheng also pointed out that Faith Based Organizations are in a key position to provide family centered/home based care and mobilize community based responses.

One of the conference's participants was a HIV positive man from India who shared his experiences of living with HIV/AIDS and he stated how crucial it is that Faith Based Organizations actively participate in the care of people living with HIV/AIDS especially children.
On the 2nd day of the conference we were all divided into 4 groups to visit sites in the community that are addressing HIV/AIDS and kids. These kids in the picture are from a place called "House of Love" which has children that have been abandoned or orphaned by parents that have died from AIDS related illness'. The "House of Love" has 27 kids of which 25-30% of them have HIV/AIDS. However, they are all affected by HIV/AIDS if not infected.
Each faith was able to address the conference with their perspective on the HIV/AIDS crisis in respect to children and what their objective and plan was to collaborate with the other faiths.

I felt the conference was a success, but I also know that talking about a problem is different than taking action against it. We all need to take action if there is going to be a difference made.