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World AIDS Day Reflection

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01 December 2014

By Lyn van Rooyen, Director CABSA, the Christian AIDS Bureau for Southern Africa

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In churches worldwide we celebrated the beginning of Advent on the 30th of November. In thousands of churches, we lit a candle of Hope.

Worldwide, we commemorate World AIDS Day on the 1st of December.

Is this an untenable contradiction? Can we, as people of faith, think of World AIDS Day in a context of Hope?

I think there is no beter time than Advent to be reminded of the HIV epidemic. Advent speaks of the yearning for God, the yearning for a new revelation, the yearning for promises to become reality.

When we look at the reality of the HIV epidemic, we also yearn for a new time, yearn for hope to become reality.

There has been so much progress, so many wonderful new developments. We even hear promises of an “AIDS free generation” or “the end of AIDS”! We know of the many amazing breakthroughs; that we now have a comprehensive basket of prevention methodologies, and particularly that we know how to prevent mother to child transmission; that we have medication available that can make HIV infection a chronic manageable disease; that there is information and knowledge available that should eradicate the stigma related to the disease.

And yet.

And yet we know that in my country, South Africa, more people were newly infected in the last year, than passed matric (the final school year in our education system) and worldwide 2.1 million people were newly infected in 2013. And yet we know there are still 22 million people who are not accessing life-saving treatment, this includes 2 million children. And yet we know that stigma and discrimination still rob people from living life abundantly, from accessing healthcare and prevention tools.

So, yes, in spite of the exciting developments, we still hope for a new reality. A reality where there are ‘zero AIDS-related deaths, zero new HIV infections and zero discrimination”.

Waiting can be passive, resigned and even without hope.

I have always believed the yearning of advent to be an active waiting. A time when we wait with the conviction that our hope and yearning will not be in vain. In some sense, a hope which we know has already been realised.

If we want to yearn, to hope, to wait in this way on World AIDS Day, our waiting also needs to be active. Modelling from UNAIDS tell us that we are at a tipping point, that we have a real chance to turn around the epidemic. But this can only happen if we increase our investment and activity. Not if we wait passively.

At the Faith-based preconference to the International AIDS Conference earlier this year, Luiz Loures, the UNAIDS deputy executive director reminded all of us that a complete response to the epidemic won’t be possible without the continuing involvement of faith-based groups.

On this World AIDS Day, more than 30 years after the epidemic began, how will you wait? Passively, resigned? Or will you join us in a renewed, active and yearning hope, where our efforts will not end, before the epidemic ends.

May the God of hope renew the hope in us, and may this lead to renewed efforts and actions.