_Where is the prevention activism? 



Where is the prevention activism? 

There has been virtually no discussion at the conference focusing on the real problems and barriers to effective prevention said Professor Dennis Altman of Australia, in the symposium session "Brave New World, Thinking Faster than the Epidemic." 

While it is undisputed in the conference that prevention, care and treatment are inextricably linked - and it is vital to address all aspects of the prevention care continuum - according to Altman no sensible and serious discussions on the role of organised religion in distributing condoms has been heard. Nor have there been clear and unambiguous statements from the Global Fund and UNAIDS that prevention efforts should not be thwarted by religion, culture and tradition. 

In responses from the floor, one delegate shared his positive experience of working with the church in Uganda. While the church would not campaign for condom use, he said, they certainly don't campaign against it. 

A minister of religion working in Zimbabwe was quick to point out that the church is prepared to advocate for condom use when it is required - for example with "promiscuous people who are spreading the virus" or with "married women whose husband may be infected," but that the church cannot "promote" condoms. 

Altman's response was that organised religion is killing large number of people: women facing unwanted pregnancy who due to policies and interventions by religious organisations lack access to safe and legal abortion, and gay men and lesbian women who commit suicide due to the "crap being spoken to them," and that this needs to be addressed. 

Altman called for the same levels of anger and militancy seen against the pharmaceutical companies and Coke at this conference to be directed against organised religion at the next conference in Bangkok. 

This is a call that should be heeded - starting from now through to the 2004 conference and beyond. We need activism that challenges religion, culture, gender inequality.

Other areas for activism are clear - for example the lack of investment by big companies into microbicides. We have a lot to learn from the successes of treatment activists and perhaps at the next conference can hear about the successes of "prevention activists".

Key Correspondent  Health & Development Networks


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