By Gregg Brekke
Faith leaders and health service providers from across the globe gathered on 27 September for an interfaith prayer breakfast, to join their voices and commit their action to combat the spread of HIV and TB in children.
Organized by the World Council of Churches – Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA) in collaboration with UNAIDS, PEPFAR, and the UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development (IATF), the breakfast followed a 26 September meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, under the theme of “United to end tuberculosis: an urgent global response to a global epidemic”, at which member states adopted a Political Declaration on Ending TB.
"Today we want to be in mutual support of one another, to strengthen old relationships and to forge new ones so we can truly improve the health of the world's children and the world's teenagers," said Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, vice moderator of the WCC central committee.
"Let's consider today some concrete action that we can take together, and that is pretty with our hearts and with our feet as we find ways to offer abundant life for all of God's children," Swenson added.
Participants at the breakfast are those who historically called on their national governments to respond to HIV, and whose advocacy and influence have contributed to the establishment of PEPFAR and other funding streams for HIV and TB.
Survivors of multi-drug resistant TB brought a powerful sense of urgency and reality to the discussion.
"I’m grateful to those within the faith community who have held us accountable,” said Dr Deborah Birx, US ambassador-at-large and head of PEPFAR. “They said, 'For all of your accomplishments, you missed half the children. For all your accomplishments, children are still dying of TB because you haven’t found them.'"
Tuberculosis is a silent killer. Roughly one-third of the world's population is infected with tuberculosis bacilli but only one in 10 persons infected will develop active TB.
Emotional testimony by Dr Dalene Von Delft relayed the importance of early diagnosis and urged continued research for drug development. "I saw on the X-ray the big hole in my lung and thought, why did I get multidrug resistant TB? I had dedicated my life to caring for people," she said. "Later I was fortunate to get on a trial of the first new TB drug in 40 years, it saved my life and I can now continue to speak and advocate so that many more can live."
UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé urged attendees to continue the work they accomplished in HIV/AIDS awareness with a renewed focus on children and adolescents vulnerable to TB: "We need each other; faith leaders, please help us to end stigma and discrimination."
Faith groups challenged to overcome world's HIV complacency (WCC press release of 27 July 2018)
Faith communities demand action to end TB, a major killer in people living with HIV (WCC press release of 21 May 2018)
Blog: Time for religious leaders to speak out - No child should die of TB (21 May 2018)