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Persistent Inequalities Weakening Efforts in Fight against HIV/Aids: Jesuits in Africa

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Social, economic and structural inequalities are slowing down efforts to control the spread of HIV/AIDS, the leadership of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) has said.

In a message on the occasion of this year’s World AIDS Day marked, Wednesday, December 1, JCAM President notes that while significant steps have been made in testing, prevention and treatment, HIV/AIDS remains a challenge amid inequalities and “social and systemic discrimination” on the African continent. 

“Persistent inequalities between women and men significantly weaken efforts to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS and increase vulnerability. Viewed from the perspective of HIV/AIDS, inequalities take social, economic, and structural forms,” Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator says in the statement.

Fr. Orobator adds, “It is critical to call to attention to the social and systemic discrimination that is strongly entrenched in almost all our societal structures.” 

He notes that prejudices deny those living with HIV “a fair chance in life, as they perpetually struggle with a combination of shame, blame, isolation, rejection, and the fear of death.”

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Referencing the Catholic Social Teachings, which recognize the need for all humanity to access the goods of the earth fairly, the Jesuit Priest says, “Every person living with AIDS, whether in rural or urban settings, should have access to prevention, treatment, care and support, irrespective of their gender, race or religion.”

“We cannot talk of mercy, compassion, and social justice when there are over 37 million people living with AIDS in the world, of which 25 million are in Africa – women, men and children who are almost forgotten and face inequality in treatment, access to medical care and dignified existence. A call for a just world is a call for the practice of equality without leaving anyone behind,” says the Nigerian-born President of JCAM. 

In her message for World AIDS Day this year, the Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said structural inequalities have made it difficult to effectively implement proven solutions for prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS.

“Without the inequality-fighting approach we need to end AIDS, the world would also struggle to end the COVID-19 pandemic and would remain unprepared for the pandemics of the future. That would be profoundly dangerous for us all,” said Winnie Byanyima.

Ms. Byanyima added, “If we take on the inequalities that hold back progress, we can deliver on the promise to end AIDS by 2030. It is in our hands.”

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Celebrations for this year’s World AIDS Day are guided by the theme, “End Inequalities. End AIDS.”

In the December 1 statement, JCAM President says the theme for this year’s celebration recognizes that “we need to end these inequalities because they are a threat to human and ecological life and wellbeing.”

The Nairobi-based Jesuit Priest adds that the theme correlates strongly with the theme of the yearlong celebration of the 500 years of the conversion of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatian Year.

He says that both themes call for more engagement, conversion or change, in order to promote the wellbeing and dignity of all, as well as increase our commitment and resources for testing, treatment, prevention and care.

“In this Ignatian Year, Jesuits and their collaborators desire to see with the eyes of the loving and compassionate Christ what needs to change at both individual and community levels so that our life-giving ministry and engagement may bear fruits that last,” Fr. Orobator says.

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He adds, “Working to end inequalities, end AIDS and end pandemics will take a change of mindset and a loving heart to initiate actions against HIV/AIDS, and to triumph over COVID-19 and other pandemics in our time.”

In the December 1 statement, the President of JCAM calls for collaboration to “defeat the enemies of human life, including HIV/AIDS and other vexing diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis, as well as many other forms of pandemics that threaten life, such as injustice, human trafficking, poverty, gender-based violence and child abuse.”

“HIV is still a reality; statistics are glaring in this regard and resources must be committed to combating HIV/AIDS and COVID-19. We must continue to be creative, innovative, and collaborative. We cannot take the foot off the pedal,” Fr. Orobator says.

In light with this year’s theme for the World AIDS Day, “End inequalities, End AIDS, End pandemics”, the Jesuit Priest calls on all people to heed Pope Francis’ counsel against individualism.

“Every man [or woman] for himself [or herself], is not a solution,” the Priest says, and adds, “We are called to be missionary disciples of the risen Christ, whose mission is to proclaim the Good News to all, break bondage of every kind and give health and healing to all.”

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