Global Call to Action Against Poverty

Make your wishes known about International Aid, HIV/AIDS, Climate Change and Education to the leaders at the G8 Summit in Japan next month. Visit: http://www.whiteband.org/

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Learnings from the Meeting on HIV/AIDS at the UN

I attended the 2008 High Level Meeting on AIDS at the UN. Here is some of what I learned.

The Good News
Progress in containing the HIV epidemic is now being seen in nearly all regions of the world. Even in some of the most resource-constrained settings, life-preserving HIV treatments are being scaled up and changes in sexual behavior are reducing the number of new infections. The world is starting to reap the benefits of the unprecedented investments made during the present decade in responding to the epidemic. These results illustrate what can be achieved when there is global resolve, political commitment and active engagement of people living with HIV  and affected communities.

The Bad News
These positive results are not uniform across or even within countries. In some parts of the world new infections continue to increase while coverage for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support remain far too low to have any impact on the course of the epidemic. The sad  truth is that for each person started on HIV treatment in 2007, 2.5 more persons were infected. An estimated 33.2 million people worldwide were living with HIV as of December 2007. Women represent half of all HIV infections among adults, but 61% of those infected in sub-Saharan Africa.

HIV and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
The MDGs are linked. Progress in one leads to possibilities in another. While the response to HIV is specifically linked to MDG, 6 it supports the achievement of most of the other goals. In fact, unless we are successful in combating HIV/AIDS the achievement of the other goals will probably be impossible. HIV/AIDS is wreaking economic havoc across the world. It strikes the most productive members of society, killing them slowly, and drawing others from the workforce and out of school to care for them. The spread of HIV/AIDS in rural areas is having a dramatic impact on food security. When farmers are affected by the disease they tend to plant fewer crops.  HIV/AIDS and food security are entwined in a vicious cycle: food insecurity heightens exposure to HIV/AIDS infection, and HIV/AIDS heightens food insecurity.

The impact of HIV/AIDS on Goal 2 – the achievement of universal primary education has been devastating. In sub-Saharan Africa, more teachers are dying of AIDS than are being trained.

With more than half of HIV-infected infants dying before the age of two, the prevention of mother to child transmission and the provision of pediatric treatment will support progress toward Goal 4, to reduce child mortality.

What can be done?
The HIV/AIDS pandemic must be recognized as a public health as well as a development issue.
Therefore, an effective response to the pandemic must become a central feature of all development efforts. This means that strengthening public health systems, including by stemming the brain drain, must go hand in hand with a effective national strategies to combat HIV/AIDS.

An effective response to the epidemic must have human rights and gender equality at its core. The rights of people living with AIDS, and other vulnerable groups must be protected, including women’s rights to make informed decisions about their sexual health. Stigmatization and discrimination, including travel restrictions, drive the pandemic under-ground, from where an effective response becomes impossible.

Finally, there must be better access to prevention, treatment, and support services, especially for those populations at most risk. We must have better public education programs, particularly for young adults. Prevention and treatment must be more accessible to everyone, including drug users, sex workers, and sexual minorities. And, preventing HIV transmission from mother-to-child must be eliminated in developing countries, as it has almost been in developed countries.

Our response to the pandemic must be inclusive. Governments, community leaders, civil society and other international actors are all part of the same team. Our collective efforts must be joined-up, complementary and coherent. We must better integrate policies and approaches that address HIV/AIDS, TB and drug-use to reflect the multifaceted nature of the pandemic. The UN system must have the capacity to ensure that national efforts are coordinated and complementary.

Leadership and political accountability are the most important part of the solution. It is of particular importance to involve youth as an integral part of the solution as they have the most to lose.

Partnership for Global Justice: June Alert

The Partnership for Global Justice, a network of religious congregations, other groups and individuals, have issued their June alert. This time the issue is the global food crisis. The food crisis is not simply a food shortage, but the result of a complex combination of factors that make it difficult to understand and to address.

Root Causes and Contributing Factors in the World Food Crisis

Weather: Weather related droughts, crop failures and erratic temperatures reduce yields and restrict supply, driving prices up.

Weak U.S. Dollar:
A weak dollar is increasing commodity speculation driving up prices. Also, U.S. food aid dollars don’t go as far.

Trade Policies:
Export demand and growing cash crops for export leave people in developing countries at greater risk of hunger.

Rising Fuel Prices:
Record-high prices for oil increase farming and transportation costs, which are passed on to consumers.

Increased Poverty:
More people are seeking food assistance and are very vulnerable to price fluctuations.

Biofuels: More farmers are growing crops for fuel rather than for food. Demand for corn as fuel continues to increase and restricts the amount of corn used or exported for food.

U.S. Crop Subsidies: Subsidies make it impossible for farmers in developing countries to compete with U.S. food commodities. They stop growing their own food supplies and rely on imports. Farmers leave the farm in search of work.

Trade Restrictions: Some countries ban exports of certain crops in order to keep domestic prices low. This restricts supply on the world market.

Inflation: Globally, an increase in the money supply pushes prices upward. In several developing countries, inflation has been a growing problem, pricing food out of reach. (Bill Griffin, CFX from http://www.educationforjustice.org)

SUGGESTED ACTIONS – Choose one or more of the following:

  • Organize a food drive for your parish or in your neighborhood.
  • Volunteer at a local soup kitchen.
  • Go to http://www.freerice.com . For each vocabulary word you get correct, this site donates 20 grains of rice to the UN World Food Program.
  • Read Mark 6: 33-44 and reflect on the following: 1) In light of the recent food crisis, what are you hearing in a new way in this passage? 2) How can you be bread for others? What actions can you take to respond with a gospel vision to those who are hungry in your own community and around the world.
  • Send a donation to a member of your congregation who works directly with the poor

People all over the world are being affected by the rising cost of food. The poor are suffering the most. Today the Passionists joined 270 other religious organizations signing a declaration calling on the United Nations High-Level Conference on Food Security to be held next week in Rome to launch a long term, multi-stakeholder process of discussion and action at all levels. You can read the declaration at: http://www.jpicpassionist.org/English/DeclarationEng.htm