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Jesuits in Africa and Madagascar Decry Shift in Attention from HIV and AIDS

African Jesuit Aids Network (AJAN) logo

The leadership of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) has noted with concern the shift of focus from HIV and AIDS that has seen other diseases prioritized.

In a report published ahead of the planned three-day African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN) Assembly slated to begin February 4, JCAM President, Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator warns that HIV and AIDS is still a big threat requiring strong and coordinated initiatives to fight.

Fr. Orobator says that the shift in attention has been observed in the dwindling resources that are allocated to the fight against AIDS as other interventions are allocated more.

Asked to highlight some of the challenges facing the HIV and AIDS programme, Fr. Orobator said, “I believe that AJAN has been doing its best to fulfill its mission despite some obvious challenges. AJAN is undergoing a period of transition and the challenge is how to adapt to changes brought about by an evolution in the HIV situation in Africa and across the world.”

He adds, “Resources have dwindled because the focus has shifted to other global challenges. There is an erroneous perception that HIV and AIDS have been overcome, but they remain a threat.”

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According to the Nairobi-based JCAM President, COVID-19 has dealt a heavier blow to people living with HIV who are affected more by the coronavirus and who were neglected as the world turned its focus on the fight against the pandemic.

“People living with HIV and AIDS and their families have been affected negatively by COVID-19. Firstly, because they are vulnerable to the new virus owing to weakened immunity. Secondly, dealing with COVID-19 means diminished resources for HIV and AIDS. Attention has been deflected from HIV and there is as a result less commitment,” the Nigerian-born Jesuit Cleric said.

AJAN has presence in nine African regions and provinces with active HIV and AIDS Ministry. 

Headquartered in Kenya’s Nairobi Archdiocese, AJAN facilitates and coordinates efforts of the members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in the fight against HIV and AIDS in Africa through networking, communication, capacity building, advocacy, fundraising and resource mobilization.

Jesuits’ efforts in the fight against HIV and AIDS in Africa include offering services such as HIV Care and Treatment, Psycho-social Support through Voluntary Counseling and Testing, Spiritual and Psycho-social Counseling and Integral Human Development through livelihood support and giving education sponsorship to orphans and vulnerable children affected by and infected with HIV and AIDS.

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Through its AJAN HIV and AIDS Prevention Programme for the Youth (AHAPPY), AJAN seeks to empower the youth in Africa to live responsibly. The AJAN Resource Centre (ARC) gives various audiences a platform to access HIV and AIDS resources through its online and physical library.

The leadership of AJAN has announced that during their February 4-6 Assembly, participants will unveil strategies to build the organization’s capacity to deliver services to as many people as possible, with the youth at the center of their activities.

The Director of AJAN, Fr. Ismael Matambura, has expressed excitement about the planned Assembly, which was moved from May last year owing to COVID-19-related restrictions in Kenya at the time.

“I am happy that we are now able to organize it even though the situation is deteriorating again in some countries, especially in the Southern part of Africa. We are aiming at enhancing the management, evaluation, monitoring, and impact measurement capacity of the Centres and projects,” Fr. Matambura said.

He added, “We shall do this through capacity building training, which we are offering to Directors of field centres and project coordinators.”

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“We wish to work to reshape the future of AJAN’s vision, and mission considering the signs of the time, Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs) of the Society of Jesus, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and Global Public Health priorities. The youth will be at the centre of our mission,” the AJAN Director said.

To prepare for the Assembly, which will take place in Nairobi, the AJAN secretariat has been holding virtual meetings with the various people involved in the organization process, planning the February event in collaborating with field centers for the past two months.

“We have made sure that all the needs are taken care of in respect of government protocols regarding COVID-19 prevention. Relevant tools for immediate preparation have been sent to the centers and the secretariat is happy with their participation,” says Fr. Matambura.

Fr. Orobator has expressed the need for the organization “to remain flexible to adapt to changing times, contexts and circumstances.”

“AJAN works to help the youth who are a significant demographic in Africa, accounting for about 60 percent of the total population. Therefore, it must put the youth at the forefront of its activities and programmes,” the Jesuit Cleric said.

He added, “The youth must be bearers of the message of prevention against HIV. AJAN must make them the ambassadors of the change we hope to see.”

The organization has been good at undertaking research, Fr. Orobator notes and underscores the need to make the information gathered through this research available to the public.

“Research is an important tool for advocacy. It enables people to make policy changes. However, the results of research are only useful when published and disseminated to people involved in advocating for the necessary interventions and changes,” he further says, and continues, “This is something that AJAN needs to improve on.”

The biggest problem that the organization is facing is getting resources to run its initiative, which Fr. Orobator says can be solved by diversifying its sources.

“It is necessary to diversify sources of funding and not to rely solely on external donors. Besides direct Jesuit support, AJAN should explore other sources,” he says, and suggests, “One way that has been used is liquidating some assets to generate financial resources, but we must identify other ways.”

His hope for the next five to 10 years, he says, is to see AJAN redefine itself “in light of the signs of the times.”

“The world is seeing an increase in the burden of disease, inequality and inequity, and there is a growing lack of access to medication and medicine for the poor. AJAN must enhance its role in advocacy in public health because currently health and social justice are matters of rights as well,” the President of the continental conference of Jesuits says in the report published January 27.