This week, over 15,000 people converged on the Thai capital Bangkok to chit chat about religion’s role in helping people with HIV, Thailand’s Nation newspaper reports. The paper quotes Asian Interfaith Network on HIV/AIDS chairperson Pramaha Boonchuay Doojai as saying that “People with HIV can spend their life in communities peacefully if religious organisation help them to eliminate stigmatisation”.
That’s dandy, but wouldn’t it be better if religious organisations stopped contributing to new HIV infections, so that there are fewer people to stigmatise in the first place? Could they squash the religious fanatics who take safe sex campaigns off the air (as the Indonesian Mujahiddin Council did in 2004?) Could they silence church leaders who tell lies about condoms (as the archbishop of Maputo did just a few months ago?) Have they even tried?
One does rather wonder whether organisations such as the Asian Interfaith Network on HIV/AIDS (and the hundreds of others like them) might be driven as much by a desire to get their hands on the growing slice of the AIDS pie reserved for Faith Based Organisations as by any real concern about HIV. Their stated aim: “To create a supportive environment at country, regional and international level for faith based response to HIV/AIDS.Promotion of rights and well being of children women and adult living and affected by HIV and AIDS…. Special efforts will also be made to mobilize both internal as well as external financial commitment from donor agencies and organizations.”
It’s curious the Holies focus on “children women and adult”, rather than on the drug injectors, sex workers, clients and men who have anal sex who make up at least two thirds of the people at risk for HIV in Asia. But perhaps I’m being too cynical. As long as they draw crowds to conferences, they will at least improve the lives of the hoteliers, restauranteurs and shopkeepers of Asia.