|Newsletter, May 2018|
International HIV/AIDS Conference
On April 18-20, 2018, Moscow hosted the VI International Eastern Europe and Central Asia AIDS Conference (EECAAC 2018), organized with the support of the Government of the Russian Federation and the Joint United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
Nearly 3000 delegates from 63 countries attended the conference, including high-ranking representatives of public authorities, health professionals and policy-makers, leading scientists, representatives of civil society organizations, religious communities, the business community, as well as managers and experts from international organizations. The motto of the VI Conference was "Mobilizing resources: experience, investments, innovation".
The 3-day conference program included three plenaries, 53 parallel sessions, a business summit and dozens of special events. The Conference focused on four tracks: "Science and Medicine", "International Development Assistance", "Effective Prevention" and "Civil Society".
The objective of the Conference was to develop regional guidelines that contain systemic cross-sectoral approaches to solving the problem of HIV/AIDS on national, regional and global levels. The main goals of the Conference focused around discussing the measures for eliminating HIV infection and other socially significant diseases in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, presenting high-performance programs and exchanging experience among scientists, experts, policy makers, healthcare professionals and public figures in relation to the best HIV response strategies.
The first conference day started with an opening ceremony with Russian Deputy Prime Ministers Olga Golodets and Arkady Dvorkovich addressing the participants, as well as EECAAC 2018 co-chairs Anna Popova, Head of the Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing and Chief State Sanitary Officer of the Russian Federation, and Michel Sidib?, UNAIDS Executive Director, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations. Welcoming remarks were also made by Ren Minghui, Director-General of WHO on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases, representatives of the ministries of health of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and civil activists.
Opening the conference, Olga Golodets said: "Russia adopte, a special program to counteract the spread of the virus; it has made it possible to seriously increase the ART coverage of HIV/AIDS patients." Among the successes in countering the spread of HIV infection in Russia, she noted a decline in the vertical HIV transmission from mother to child. She noted that the problem of HIV is growing all over the world and is spreading even to the well-off strata of the population. "If previously HIV/AIDS was, as a rule, the lot of people with antisocial way of life, now we see among PLWA quite well-off families and persons," Olga Golodets said.
"The Moscow Conference remains the key mechanism for development cooperation on combating the spread of HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Over these three days we will carry out a comprehensive analysis of the challenges associated with HIV infection in the world and in this region, as well as define the priority vectors of actions to overcome them. HIV infection has been a global health issue for more than 35 years. No country can afford to ignore this epidemic", stressed Anna Popova. Speaking about the situation with HIV infection in Russia, she noted: "The main thing that we can state now is, we were able to achieve a significant reduction in the growth rate of HIV infection. And for the first time in many years, in 2017, the growth rate was only 2%, while in 2012 it was 13.4%". "Significantly increased the number of HIV tests. In 2017 in Russia more than 34 million people were tested for HIV, this is almost one in four residents. Almost half of people with HIV infection get treatment, whereas in 2012 they were less than one third". "This is our common result, this is our common efforts, but this is also the contribution of our conferences and our actions".
Michel Sidib? said: "The Sixth International Conference on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is the biggest and most representative in terms of participants in the region," Russia has made significant progress in reducing the spread of the disease on its territory. "Russia has everything it needs to end AIDS and help other countries in the EECA region. UNAIDS stands ready to work with the Russian leadership to develop and launch a Fast-Track plan for the Russian Federation as an urgent priority. I hope that by the time we are gathered here again for EECAAC in 2020, the Russian Federation will have reached 90-90-90".
During the opening of the conference, the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church Bishop Mefodiy of Kamensk and Alapaevsk addressed the participants with a welcoming address (the text of the speech is given in a separate article).
The first day was devoted to a review of the HIV situation in the region in terms of epidemiology and treatment, as well as the prospects of achieving the "90-90-90" goals in the context of the universal coverage of health services.
On the second day of the Conference the delegates discussed science-based approaches and effective mechanisms to stop the HIV epidemic in the region.
The main theme of the third day was the future prevention, diagnosis and treatment of HIV infection, and existing barriers to the objectives laid out by the international community.
The closing ceremony was conducted by Gennady Onishchenko, first Deputy Chairman of the Committee of the State Duma, Irina Bragina, Deputy Head Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Well-being, and Vinay Saldanha, UNAIDS Regional Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Participation of religious organizations in the EECAAC-2018
The conference was attended by a delegation of Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious communities in Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and Armenia - about 80 representatives of various religious traditions, who took an active part in plenary sessions, sections and seminars, as well as in media coverage.
On April 19, a panel discussion "HIV Prevention Among Adolescents and Youth" was held on the "Open Discussion Platform". The staff member of DECR MP Margarita Nelyubova spoke on "Primary HIV Prevention Among Children and Youth Implemented by the Russian Orthodox Church". She spoke in detail about the value-oriented programs for the prevention of risky behavior for children and youth: "Ladya" (for teenagers), "Living Water" (for primary school children) and "Way to Home" (for students) developed in Russia.
She said that these programs are based in the understanding "that the epidemic of HIV and other socially dangerous diseases is not only a medical or social phenomenon; this phenomenon has spiritual and ethical roots ... Accordingly, all these social diseases require a complex treatment, including the moral component". These programs are aimed at "nonspecific prevention", i.e. they do not exclusively inform about the dangers of HIV, but give children an opportunity to get acquainted with traditional ethical values and deeply comprehend and own them. The value orientation formed in the course of the program would allow the participants to abstain from risky behavior and, as a result, avoid infection with socially dangerous diseases. These programs can be easily adapted for use in a context where Christianity is not dominant, because they do not have a catechetical purpose, and the basic moral values coincide in Russian religious traditions, M. Nelyubova said. The programs have been applied for a number of years in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Armenia.
On the same day, Olga Egorova, head of the Resource Center for Palliative Care of St. Dimitry Sisterhood (Moscow), spoke at a session on "Issues requiring training for health workers in organizing care for HIV patients". In her report "HIV Prevention Among Nurses and Volunteers Providing Palliative Care to PLWH", she talked about the role that nurses and volunteers play in the HIV prevention system in health care institutions. Great work is being done with drug users and homeless people. Sisters of charity try to accommodate them in social institutions, help them find relatives, restore documents. The St. Dimitry Resource Center for Palliative Care issued a training manual for medical colleges for the prevention of occupational infections: "HIV infection. Clinical manifestations and forms. Nursing. Prevention of occupational infections". The Resource Center has published many manuals on HIV, they include a section on infectious safety. Sisters of Charity and volunteers are also working with the parents of HIV-positive children and teachers of the schools, where they study, to ensure the confidentiality of the diagnosis and psychological support.
On April 20, the session "The Role of Religious Confessions in HIV Prevention" was co-chaired by Bishop Mefodiy of Kamensk and Alapaevsk, Chief Prison Rabbi of Russia Aron Gurevich and representative of the Russia's Central Spiritual Governance for Muslims in Tyumen Region imam-mukhtasib Ildar Ziganshin,
During the session, Dr. Manoj Kurian, representative of the World Council of Churches (WCC), made a presentation on "Strategic Insights on Global Engagement of Faith Communities to overcome HIV". This international organization has 35 years of experience working on HIV. Among the important lessons of this work, the speaker named the need to take all decisions together with the affected people, i.e. with HIV-positive, with people at risk. "There should be no opposition: us and them," he said, stressing that WCC members pray and pilgrimage together with these people. According to him, the WCC proceeds from a holistic approach to the HIV problem, considering complex biomedical, social, psychological, moral aspects. The main thing is "love and faith, communication and forgiveness", this "gives the potential for creation, sets the highest level of values".
Archpriest Georgy Pimenov, representing the Coordination Center for Counteracting Drug Addiction and Alcoholism of the St. Petersburg diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, in his report "HIV/AIDS Denialism and the Church. The Attitude of the Church Towards HIV Denialism" explained the Church's official position on the problem of HIV-denialism - of course animus. However, this does not prevent some public organizations that associate themselves with Orthodoxy, and even some clerics, to spread the "deadly ideas of HIV-dissidence", which urge to refuse treatment and prevention of this dangerous disease. Unfortunately, scientific dialogue with such people is impossible, noted Fr. Georgy, but it is necessary to distance from them, because they "use the Church as cover".
Marina Konstantinova, representative of the women's Jewish organization Project Kesher, in her report "HIV Prevention: Traditions of Judaism and the Challenges of Modernity" spoke about how more than 3 thousand of her like-minded people in 6 countries are working to encourage people to change their attitude to health. In its activity Kesher relies on the traditions of Judaism, which does not prevent them from helping people of different confessions and traditions, while Kesher employees are ready to cooperate with both state authorities and various religious organizations in HIV prevention, considering it "the only way to stop the infection". "Kesher" pays much attention to the training of young volunteers.
The report of Elena Severina, representing the Bryansk regional Church-public organization 'Blago' on the topic "Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Value-oriented Programmes for the Prevention of Risky Behavior in Children and Youth" was devoted to the results of an assessment of the effectiveness of "Ladya" and "Living Water" programs on the example of educational institutions in Bryansk (in 2014-2017). Monitoring allows to assert that participation in this programs helps schoolchildren to change attitudes towards such fundamental values as family, friendship, love, well-being of family, health, and fill them with profound content. This value reorientation will help children become more resistant to the negative influence of the environment.
The staff member of the Center "Family" and the Chelyabinsk AIDS Center Ilya Akhlyustin and Svetlana Abalmazova, representing the Chelyabinsk Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, described how these programs "work" in Chelyabinsk region, how they help train volunteers and unite people. They reported on the "Experience of Cooperation of State, Community and Religious Organizations in HIV Prevention Among Children and Youth".
Konstantin Bendas, Bishop of the Russian Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith (ROSHVE), presented a broad picture of the rehabilitation ministry conducted by this religious organization. Since 1994, under the auspices of ROSHVE, there have been established 350 in-patient rehabilitation centers, in which about 30,000 people can be located simultaneously. Within 20 years, several hundred thousand people with chemical dependencies and, hence, those most at risk of HIV infection were rehabilitated in these centers. K. Bendas strongly opposed the methadone programs (the so-called substitution therapy), common in the West. "We must do everything possible to ensure that this homicidal program has never been admitted to Russia," he said.
The General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Russia, priest Igor Kovalevsky, said that charitable organization "Caritas" is purposefully supporting the HIV patients in the Catholic Church. Over 5,000 "Caritas" hospitals, 18,000 dispensaries, 9,000 specialized orphanages are in operation around the world. "Caritas" cooperates with the WCC, and in Russia the main partner for joint charitable activities is the ROC. "To win over HIV, unity is necessary," Father Igor quoted the words of Pope Francis Francis, urging religious organizations to unite efforts to combat the spread of HIV.
As a result of the conference, the Final Statement was adopted, which confirmed the commitment of the countries of the region to achieve the goals of the Sustainable Development Goals - to put an end to the HIV epidemic by 2030. The statement also noted the important role of religious communities in the progress that has been made since the Fifth Conference in 2016 in the countries of the region in several areas, crucial in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Among the tasks for the near future, the document calls to "support and facilitate the involvement of religious communities in HIV response activities".
The conference participants proposed to hold the next, the VII international conference on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia in 2020 in Moscow.
Representatives of the religious communities of Eastern Europe and Central Asia participated in all six international conferences on HIV/AIDS in the EECA region, starting in 2006. With each next conference, the participation of religious communities was expanded: the number of participants, reports, seminars increased.
Speech at the VI conference on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia
by Bishop Mefodiy of Kamensk and Alapaevsk, Head of the Coordination Center for Counteracting Drug Addiction at the Synodal Department for Church Charity and Social Service Russian Orthodox Church
Dear organizers, participants and guests of the conference!
This is the sixth time that we have met on this prestigious international forum to discuss the situation and our actions in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
"The problem of HIV/AIDS has long gone beyond the sphere of responsibility of health care, social protection, economic agencies. Various governmental, public and religious organizations throughout the world joint their efforts in combating spread of this disease. HIV infection does not differentiate with respect to nationality, religious affiliation or political convictions; it has become a serious threat to the development and existence of society.
The Russian Orthodox Church has been contributing to this struggle for many years, providing spiritual and prayer support, social and psychological help to people living with HIV and their families, and ethical formation for youth. HIV-infected people are not rogue in the Orthodox environment. The Church testifies that HIV is not a seal of God's rejection. HIV is a call, not a curse.
One of the most important tasks is the prevention of HIV infection among drug addicts. According to the Coordination Center for Counteracting Drug Addiction to the Synodal Charity Department, by the end of 2017, 120 church counseling stations, 89 rehabilitation centers, 21 re-socialization centers, 9 outpatient programs and 7 preparatory motivational centers operated on 156 dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) in Russia. 18 ROC monasteries are also providing rehabilitation for drug users. Among those undergoing rehabilitation and receiving help in these organizations, many are HIV-infected.
The experience of the Church shows that our common effort to strengthen spiritual and moral standards in society should be the most important tool to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS. Particular attention should be given to the education of children in the spirit of respect for family values and traditions, responsible treatment of a loved one, protection of health as a gift of God, civic consciousness, public service, matrimonial fidelity, mercy and compassion.
One of the most important lessons that a society facing the HIV/AIDS epidemic must learn is the recognition of the importance that morality has in the life of every person and the people as a whole. We need to recognize a simple truth: morality, spirituality are not just words that are irrelevant for real life. Genuine morality as an internal principle of human life, spirituality as the motive for actions is the basic reality that determines the prospects for the life and development of the individual, the people, the country, the world.
Dear participants of the conference let me wish all of us God's help and successful work, which, we hope, will bring good results.Top of the page
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