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WORLD AIDS DAY 2012: Don't forget people struggling to deal with AIDS

Don't forget people struggling to deal with AIDS and make the most of community-based efforts to support them and to move towards self-reliance.

This is the message of the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN) to international agencies, donors and African governments as the world marks World AIDS Day by reiterating its determination of Getting to zero: zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths.

The World AIDS Campaign focus on "zero AIDS related deaths" signifies a push towards greater access to treatment for all. Recent treatment rollout has been impressive: nearly 6.2 million people received antiretroviral therapy (ART) in sub-Saharan Africa in 2011, a 22% increase over the year before.

But behind the upbeat statistics lies a wider and grimmer reality, seen in the daily ministry of Jesuits and their co-workers, who support people with HIV and orphans in community-based programmes across Africa. Our experience reveals that much more needs to be done to support people affected by AIDS in the world's poorest countries. As funding cuts threaten current efforts, a dual approach of sustained financial support and enhancing self-reliance for programmes and beneficiaries is key.

Over the past year, stockouts of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) posed a serious problem for people supported by Jesuit programmes in Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and elsewhere. In Burundi, the supply of ARVs is not enough to match demand, while those who have not yet started taking ARVs are not given free medication for opportunistic infections. In Kisangani, DRC, parish project Parlons-SIDA has been inundated with prescriptions for medical tests and medicines to treat opportunistic infections. Due to extreme poverty and neglect by their families, many people with HIV end up destitute and need not only medical support but also food to survive. Things have become worse since other AIDS programmes in the city closed. But Parlons-SIDA cannot always afford to help.

As outside funding decreases, we are finding creative ways to fund our projects. In DRC, Kenya, Zambia and elsewhere, parish home-based care programmes run income-generating activities like tailoring and a bakery, to teach people skills and to raise money for their work. But sustained financial support remains a must at least for some years to come. AJAN adds its voice to the World AIDS Campaign in urging governments to act to ensure access to treatment.

However this would count for little without human resources, which is where the greatest strength of Africa lies. Jesuit AIDS projects thrive thanks to people, including many with HIV, who break the walls of stigma, silence and suffering surrounding AIDS. Their irreplaceable efforts take AIDS out of the medical sphere, in which it is often confined, and tackle it in the community, trying to ensure that those affected have all the support they need to live life to the full.

A heartfelt word of thanks goes to all those who are driven by the appeal of Jesus to His followers to go out, preach the Good News and heal the sick. Let us try to follow this counsel in the coming year.

Fr Michael Lewis SJ

President of the Jesuit Superiors of Africa and Madagascar (JESAM)

1 December 2012