World Council of Churches Office of Communication
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31 May 2001

Ecumenical team concerned about lack of provisions
for proposed Global Fund for AIDS

Church representatives at second preparatory meeting
of UN's special session HIV/AIDS

cf. WCC Press Release, PR-01-06, of 6 March 2001

A team representing the World Council of Churches (WCC) has expressed concern about a lack of provisions for the proposed Global Fund for AIDS. The ecumenical delegates to the second preparatory meeting for the United Nations (UN) special session on HIV/AIDS, which began 21 May, demand that the fund should be used for prevention as well as treatment, and that it should assist organisations of civil society as well as governmental programmes.

There is also uncertainty, they reported, about whether the Global Fund will be set up under UN auspices or will be given to some independent entity for administration. The WCC team did not take a position on that point, but did emphasise that the fund "must be sustainable and be administered in a transparent and accountable manner."

The Global Fund for AIDS was also amongst the issues the WCC team raised when it met with a number of government representatives informally, and on 22 May the ambassadors of Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda accepted their invitation to a luncheon meeting at the Church Center for the UN, across the street from UN headquarters. According to Christoph Benn a German medical doctor who works with the German Institute for Medical Mission (DIFAM) and led the ecumenical team, the African countries - except perhaps for South Africa, which took a low profile - had generally formed a consensus on the direction they would like to see taken. And this was generally in harmony with the WCC outlook. On finances for example, Africans want the appeal for assistance and establishment of the Global Fund connected to debt relief, but the United States is opposing that, the WCC team found.

The team also said that the second draft of the proposed Declaration of Commitment needed the addition of an emphasis on "empowerment of young women" to make their own decisions about sex, and a commitment to keep children orphaned by AIDS "in touch with each other."

Members of the ecumenical team discovered that their work was more difficult at the second meeting because official sessions were closed to non-governmental representatives (NGOs). Benn and Marian C. L. Grandia-Feddema, secretary general of the International Christian AIDS Network based in Amsterdam, took that to mean that "it's getting more sensitive," and some governments would consider it injurious for their positions to become public at this point. Two special sessions were arranged for NGOs to present their views to government representatives, but many governments failed to send anyone to listen.

Signs that governments were finding the negotiations difficult came not only with the decision on keeping them closed to outsiders, but also from the failure to complete their work 25 May as anticipated. Talks were to continue another day, and government representatives were to be called back 14 June for still more negotiations.

Benn and Grandia-Feddema as well as Gideon Byamugisha, an Anglican priest who directs a health programme in Uganda, and Dorothy Brewster-Lee, coordinator of International Health Ministries for the Presbyterian Church (USA), had also represented the WCC at the first preparatory meeting 26 February-2 March, and issued a statement that said governments needed to work in close collaboration with the religious community in order to carry out an effective HIV/AIDS programme.

Both preparatory meetings were held at UN headquarters in New York, where the General Assembly will meet for a Special Session on HIV/AIDS 25-27 June.

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.