Jesuits in Africa unite in fight against AIDS

Fr Paterne Mombé SJ, Coordinator of AJAN, visits a parish in Mozambique
Fr Paterne Mombé SJ, Coordinator of AJAN, visits a parish in Mozambique

Jesuits and co-workers who support people suffering with HIV and AIDS in Africa have committed themselves to eliminating the pandemic by 2030. But it needs to be addressed alongside poverty and other diseases; and with the full engagement of the people of the continent themselves.

Representatives from the African Jesuits AIDS Network (AJAN) were among the activists and practitioners who joined leading scientists at the 18th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Zimbabwe. This gathering brings together individuals and organisations every two years to share their experiences and knowledge in a bid to combine efforts to overcome AIDS.

“Plenty of significant commitments were expressed by partners, donors and international organisations,” said Fr Elphège Quenum SJ from the Centre for Research, Studies and Creativity (CREC) in Benin. “While this mobilisation is very encouraging, it must also be acknowledged that little was said about other challenges, chief among them poverty and other severe diseases like malaria and hepatitis B and C that ease the spread of HIV. My view is that ultimately there can be no real success against HIV without addressing other damaging diseases.”

Responding from within

AJAN was represented at the conference by participants from AJAN House in Nairobi and from Benin, Madagascar, Burundi and Zimbabwe itself. One of AJAN’s strengths is the breadth of experience that the Jesuits have in working with people with HIV in Africa; and one of the sessions at the conference considered forming a Jesuit ‘think tank’ that would bring together people from different backgrounds to reflect on AIDS-related issues alongside other challenges threatening the continent.

Although Fr Quenum felt that the environment had become more comprehensive, encouraging and hopeful over recent years, he said the challenge is still there. “New infections still occur and people still die of HIV-related diseases. Stigma, cultural and religious beliefs and other factors still expose people to HIV infection ... The real battle against AIDS should empower African populations to respond from within. Poor populations are vulnerable and may continue being exposed to HIV even while progress is being made. Africa needs to be empowered to rise up and finish with AIDS.”

AJAN is supported by Jesuit Missions; and funds raised by runners in the London Marathon Jesuit Missions team on 24 April will support its ongoing work.