Church representatives attend "virtual" International AIDS conference

Church of Scotland representatives attended a virtual meeting of the 23rd International AIDS conference in San Francisco in the USA.

Rev Richard Baxter, minister of Duncansburgh MacIntosh Parish Church in Fort William, and Carol Finlay of the Faith Impact Forum, took part in online events to ensure the Kirk is up to date with the latest developments in the global fight against AIDS and HIV.

The Church of Scotland HIV Programme was launched in 2002 and supports 20 projects in 16 countries and the “Souper Sunday” initiative has generated more than £500,000.

HIV Programme shoes

Mr Baxter and Ms Finlay, who represented the Faith Impact Forum at the conference, which had the theme, resilience, set out their thoughts as new figures in the UNAIDS Global report showed there were 1.7 million people newly infected with HIV in 2019.

“HIV continues to be the biggest epidemic since the 1918 Spanish flu.

“Numbers in sub-Saharan Africa are reducing but the battle is not yet won and COVID-19 is threatening to overshadow HIV in terms of resources.

“This could see the rates of mother to child transmission in this area returning to what they were 10 years ago.

Stigma and fear

“It is in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Latin America where the percentage of new infections are rising the most.

"Places where key populations are treated inequitably, where criminal law prevents parts of the community accessing adequate treatment safely.

“Where some groups, particularly Black and Latino youth, gay men and transgender women are extremely vulnerable.

“As in many societies today, it is structures imposed on them that make it difficult to reach out to key populations.

“Structures create barriers, create stigma and create fear.

“It is those living with health, socio-economic and racial disparity that are at higher risk to HIV and AIDS.

“This is why community led mobilisation should be at the heart of the HIV response using community voices to drive policy change.

“The reduction of new infections in sub-Saharan Africa is a result, in many ways, of the learning that ‘being off the community, helps in reaching out to the community.

Crossroads

"Lessons learned are also helping in developing monitoring systems at community level and many who have been involved in HIV work are now engaged with COVID-19.

"It is important that this investment is continued for both epidemics so gains made in the HIV sector are not lost to COVID-19.

"In a world where 24 million people remain on anti-retroviral medication, AIDS research is now at a crossroads.

"Today, the learning from 40 years of the global AIDS epidemic is helping shape the way in which the world is dealing with COVID-19.

"Some of the scientific breakthroughs related to HIV are helping lessen the work required in seeking treatment and prevention of COVID-19.

“This means resources are being diverted and the fight against HIV and the hope of an AIDS-free generation by 2030 is now beyond hope.

"Funding for HIV must continue and we hope that congregations will carry on supporting this vital work."