Beginning and ending with words of prayer from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Baháʼí, and Buddhist communities, the gathering drew a sense of unity among civic and faith-based leaders.
“I was very glad some sense of urgency was brought forth,” said Gracia Ross, programme executive for the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy programme. “For so many governments, HIV has really fallen off the agenda.”
Ross, echoing the speakers, cited mental health issues and poverty that particularly exacerbate the injustices children with HIV are facing. “We need to look at those inequities,” she urged.
Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS, offered a keynote speech at the breakfast, which was entitled “Communities of Faiths Breakfast Building Partnerships for a One-Community HIV Response.”
“The figures are shocking that children—who can’t advocate for themselves—are the ones most in need of services and most left behind,” said Byanyima. “Every hour, 11 children under the age of 15 are dying from AIDS.”
Byanyima believes that, if faith-based groups and policymakers continue to work together, they can end this tragic tide. “Faith partners—you and your colleagues—are key to ending the inequalities that drive new infections and keep people living with HIV away from medicine and services,” she said. “It is your caring and compassion that change lives and mindsets.”
Faith-based groups listen to the needs of communities in ways that other groups are not, Byanyima said. “You have the power,” she said. “You are crucial.”
Chip Lyons, president and CEO of The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, urged people to always include the situation for children when speaking about HIV and AIDS. “Some people in this room have the opportunity to develop strategies for HIV and AIDS,” he said. “Ask if those strategies are addressing the needs of children.”
Ambassador Dr John Nkengasong, who oversees the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), expressed his commitment to fight against HIV and AIDS in children.
“PEPFAR is very proud to categorize itself fas one of the programs that equalizes the inequities, especially in children,” he said. “Over the past couple years, we’ve been able to prevent 5.5 million children from being infected—5.5 million children born free from AIDS,” he said. “One of those game changers in this is the communities of faith.”