“The United Nations has urged the Philippines to pass a bill that will allow the government to provide free contraceptives,” BBC News reports (8/5). “UNFPA country coordinator Ugochi Florence Daniels said the [reproductive health (RH)] bill is important for the Philippines to achieve its health-related targets in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” including maternal health, HIV/AIDS and infant mortality, the Philippine Star writes (Crisostomo, 8/4). “The House of Representatives plans to decide Tuesday whether to end debate on the bill and put it to a vote,” the Associated Press/Seattle Times notes (Gomez, 8/5).
“The International AIDS Conference [AIDS 2012] was full of talk of hope and best practices, but no one was giving details on how to reach an ‘AIDS-free generation,’” GlobalPost correspondent John Donnelly writes in this post in the “Global Pulse” blog. “Still, this conference, like many before it, had several key moments when it was clear that the world of AIDS had changed,” he adds, and highlights a summit of faith groups organized by Rick and Kay Warren of Saddleback Church and held on the sidelines of the conference. “Saddleback’s work in Africa follows what it calls the PEACE Plan, which stands for planting churches that promote reconciliation; equipping servant leaders; assisting the poor; caring for the sick; and educating the next generation,” he notes.
“Although circumcision’s effect on protection against HIV is clear — three studies have shown a 60 percent reduction in risk to men — as a public health strategy, it is fraught with caveats,” the Washington Post reports. Though uncertainty exists about the degree of protection the procedure provides, especially for specific groups such as men who have sex with men, and “[m]any ethnic groups have strong cultural traditions against the procedure,” “many AIDS researchers and advocates view it as a strategy that needs far more promotion since it provides some protection to men having sex with infected women,” according to the newspaper. The article includes a summary of data and studies on circumcision (Brown, 7/25).
In this post in The Hill’s “Congress Blog,” Eric Bond, managing editor of Bread for the World — a Christian anti-hunger organization — examines the role of PEPFAR in the global AIDS response, writing, “Progress against HIV/AIDS has been a remarkable achievement in which diverse communities worked together to apply political pressure, find funding, conduct research, and share tactics,” and “U.S. foreign assistance programs like [PEPFAR have] provided support to tens of millions of people through prevention, treatment, and care.” He continues, “As the International AIDS Conference continues this week in our nation’s capital, it is worth reflecting on the part that Bread for the World members have played in fighting AIDS through their support of U.S. foreign assistance programs like PEPFAR,” and “it provides a reminder of the importance of keeping such assistance in the federal budget” (7/25).
In this Washington Post opinion piece, Richard Stearns, president of World Vision U.S., examines the role that Christians have played in the global effort to eradicate AIDS, noting the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) is being held in Washington, D.C., this week. “Two decades ago, no one would have predicted that Christians would so quickly change their response to the HIV and AIDS epidemic from criticism to compassion,” he writes, and provides a history of the Christian response. He concludes, “As thousands gather for the International AIDS Conference this week, with the end of AIDS in sight, let’s focus on our role and responsibility as Christians in continuing this important work until we truly achieve an AIDS-free generation” (7/25).
“Every year, somewhere between $200 billion and $1 trillion are spent in ‘mandatory’ alms [zakat] and voluntary charity [sadaqa] across the Muslim world, Islamic financial analysts estimate,” IRIN reports, noting, “At the low end of the estimate, this is 15 times more than global humanitarian aid contributions in 2011.” The news service writes, “With aid from traditional Western donors decreasing in the wake of a global recession, and with about a quarter of the Muslim world living on less than $1.25 a day, this represents a huge pool of potential in the world of aid funding.”
“The last three countries where polio is still paralyzing children — Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria — said on Thursday that they have enlisted Muslim women and religious leaders to allay fears of vaccination and wipe out the disease,” Reuters reports. According to Shahnaz Wazir Ali, a special assistant to Pakistan’s Prime Minister who is in charge of the polio eradication campaign, more than 20 leading Islamic scholars “have signed an endorsement of the polio eradication program, which is being used to persuade Pakistani parents” to allow their children to be vaccinated, the news agency writes. In Nigeria, the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations is backing a polio immunization campaign there, Reuters notes. “It is not the first time that the world has come tantalizingly close to wiping out the crippling disease,” the news agency writes. “‘We’re so close, there is no time for complacency,’ Dr. Christopher Elias, head of global development at the [Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation], a major donor, told Reuters in Geneva,” Reuters adds (Nebehay, 5/24).
PRI’s “The World” examines the role of churches in the fight against HIV in Swaziland. The news service highlights several church-run HIV programs, writing, “Churches have long played an important role in caring for the sick, but in terms of HIV prevention they’ve been at odds with the public health community. It has often come down to one issue: until recently, Swazi church leaders publicly rejected the use of condoms by their congregants. But now you hear many comments that suggest a change in thinking.”
Inter Press Service examines discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Guatemala, where advocates and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) say such discrimination is undermining HIV prevention and treatment. Carolos Valdez of the NGO Proyecto Unidos “said the country has taken ‘few steps’ for preventing the spread of HIV among vulnerable groups,” including “opening five clinics catering to members of sexual minorities,” IPS writes.
“Washington is in an era of budget-cutting, so we frequently hear calls to shrink or eliminate U.S. foreign-assistance programs,” which is why “several religious groups … are highlighting how these programs reduce global poverty and hunger, saving millions of lives,” Richard Stearns, president of World Vision USA, writes in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece. However, he says “evangelical Christians [are] largely absent from this religious coalition” and notes that “a Pew survey earlier this year found that 56 percent of evangelicals think ‘aid to the world’s poor’ should be the first thing cut from the federal budget.”