HIV and the Church

Report from the 20th Conference on Retrovirology and Opportunistic Infections (CROI)

Written by Mariel Selbovitz, MPH and David Miller

At the 20th Conference on Retrovirology and Opportunistic Infections (CROI), which concluded this past week, Dr. Francois Dabis, from ANRS (Agence Nationale de Recherche sur le Sida/National Research Agency on AIDS) in France, gave a presentation, “Is the End of AIDS in Sight?”  At this critical symposium on achieving an “AIDS-free generation,” Dr. Dabis defined the end of AIDS as (1) no more AIDS-defining events or deaths, with (2) less than 350,000 new infections per year worldwide, (3) elimination of new HIV infections in children and (4) disease control.  While his comments seemed to indicate a turning tide, he also asserted that there is not enough data to speculate about the end of AIDS.

Yet, waves of scientific breakthroughs as reported in peer-reviewed publications and general media, as well as political talk of an “AIDS-free generation” have recently flooded our attention.  When the first International AIDS Conference was held in Atlanta in 1985, scientific response to the AIDS crisis was hindered by a drought of both political will and allocation of resources.  Lately, we have seen significant gains in the prevention of mother-to-child-transmission, the advent of HAART, expanded access to treatment, and the adoption of the test and treat model. Today, we are seeing the ebb of new infections in Africa but are awash with growing infections in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and other parts of the world.

At this watershed moment in the course of the AIDS crisis, we see both a deluge of opportunity and a return to a drought of despair.  Leading scientists offer hope by forecasting either the universal induction of replicative incompetence via an effective therapeutic vaccine or new antiviral approaches to which resistance does not develop, which would effectively be a viable functional cure.  Scientific feasibility, increased financial investment, strong political commitment and popular support can make these predictions come true.  However, Sequestration parches, threatening to devastate every aspect of HIV&AIDS scape, from service provision by ASOs (AIDS Service Organizations), to groundbreaking biomedical interventions, to publicly funded programs such as ADAP (AIDS Drug Assistant Program) and PEPFAR (The United States President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief).

Staying with our water and weather analogies, ”Where’s the rain?”

We think the Church is, has been and could be, the “showers of blessing” needed in these critical days.  The Church can accelerate clinical efforts toward achieving an “AIDS-free generation” and “Getting to Zero” by ministering to millions still without access to treatment and care, and many more millions who suffer from food insufficiency, lack of access to clean water, and basic medical care.  Churches around the world, big and small, now have the opportunity to turn the tide both domestically and internationally by starting food pantries, missions, and advocacy that emphasizes the value of every life, demands the implementation of the hard-won advances and restores the hope of the theme of the XIX International AIDS Conference, “Turning the Tide Together!” 

The tide is turning for millions of people living with HIV.  The question is, “Will we keep that incoming tide rolling with positive momentum through the vision and action of the Church?”

For more information on CROI: For more information on how the Church is helping – and your church can help:

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