WASHINGTON, DC — Here at the (ridiculously) big International AIDS Conference, I’ve been wandering around listening to scientists talk about science and policy makers talk about policy but not hearing much about another critical issue in AIDS:
Charity, and the role of faith-based groups.
Being charitable is the central tenet of almost every religion. Charity is the ‘greatest form of love’ in Christianity, the ‘third pillar’ of Islam as well as the ‘third observance’ for Hindus and the obligatory ‘tzedakah’ of Judaism.
It’s a guiding principle for faith-based organizations working around the world to help the poor, assist in disaster relief and provide for those in need.
And, perhaps surprisingly for many, it has been a critical force that led to one of the greatest achievements in modern global health — the expansion of anti-HIV treatment to millions of people who would have otherwise died.
I’m talking about PEPFAR, the $15 billion program President George W. Bush launched in 2003 to distribute anti-HIV drugs to millions of infected people living in poor parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
PEPFAR is mentioned in perhaps every other speech here at the International AIDS Conference, AIDS 2012, as one of those game-changers. Infrequently, some folks also mention, usually just in passing, something like the ‘contributions of the faith-based community.’
What’s probably not appreciated is that U.S. leadership in responding to the global AIDS pandemic came together thanks to an unusual partnership of evangelical Christians and very secular AIDS activists, isolationist conservatives and bleeding-heart liberals. Continue reading