Emily Perper | Staff Writer
Thirty million people are currently infected. Instead of targeting the young and elderly, the disease most frequently kills those between the ages of 15 and 40.
“If we don’t act on this, it’s a lack of faith, hope and love,” Ambassador Mark Dybul said.
On Monday, Dybul presented “Faith and Global Health: Opportunities and Challenges to Create a More Perfect World.” Chautauquans arrived at Hall of Philosophy more than an hour early for the first Interfaith Lecture of the 2011 Season.
Dybul was the United States Global AIDS Coordinator from 2006 to 2009. He currently serves as the co-director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, where he is a Distinguished Visiting Scholar.
To give context for his passion, Dybul briefly traced the growth of global health.
“The history of development isn’t particularly attractive,” Dybul said as he explained that development began with colonialism and imperialism, adding that the positive aspects of missionary zeal ran counter to the political and exploitative tendencies.
Dybul called the Cold War the worst period in the history of global health. Helping other countries prevent disease was a way to expand the United States’ sphere of influence. Aid did not come from a place of altruism but from a desire to form alliances. “Post-colonial guilt” was more about subliminating feelings of responsibility than finding permanent solutions.
A new era emerged with the drafting of the Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development, published in 2002 by the United Nations, which altered the way the world approached global health, Dybul said.
“It moved from the paternalism of the past,” he said. “Development was actually about a partnership.”
Under the George W. Bush administration, Dybul helped to lead the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, “the largest international health initiative in history for a single disease,” according to its website.
Dybul mentioned several other successful development initiatives: The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; the President’s Malaria Initiative; and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation.
“The American people are the largest contributors to all of these,” Dybul said.
The initiatives Bush supported may have seemed contradictory to his socially and fiscally conservative political stance, but Bush’s personal faith influenced his decision to support funding for global health development, Dybul said.
He added that when asked, Bush referenced his personal faith and quoted part of Luke 12:48: “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return.”
After years in government, Dybul understood that bureaucracy tended to distort originally well-intentioned movements and exacerbate human fallibility.
“Development and health were not about government-to-government relationship; they’re about people-to-people relationships,” he said. “And that meant faith-based organizations, the private sector, everyone needed to be engaged.”
Faith-based organizations are positioned uniquely in the global health arena. The World Health Organization reported faith-based organizations provide 90 percent of orphan care and 50 to 75 percent of healthcare in Africa.
On a continent where there are 12 million orphans, orphan-dominated villages have emerged in which the oldest person in a village is between 15 and 20 years old. Although they were recently children themselves, they cared for the other village children. In such situations, faith-based orphan care is a significant help, Dybul said.
Philosophically faith-based organizations differ from other institutions, he added.
“At its best, faith is a profound openness to otherness,” Dybul said. “People of faith see the image of their creator in others, and therefore see the others as deserving of love and respect and are hopeful they will receive it.”
Dybul made note of two important factors that set faith-based organizations apart from other groups.
First is the reclamation of the original purpose of the missionary zeal of colonial times, balanced with a continued rejection of paternalism.
“Faith and faith communities see the dignity and worth of every human life, and that means every human life has the ability to own its future … that person doesn’t need to be told what to do,” Dybul said, reiterating the importance of the shift from paternalism to equality.
The second factor is the recognition of the value of the whole person, not fixating on his or her disease — “caring for the mind, body and soul.” And while faith-based organizations are not the only organizations to do this, it tends to be emphasized within them.
The link between maternal mortality and the well-being of children is significant. Children whose mothers perish in childbirth are 10 times more likely to die themselves within two years, according to the UNICEF website.
At the time of the United States’ founding, maternal death was as common in the U.S. as it is in Africa today. This fact, Dybul said, shows that mortality rates can change.
There are both cultural and economic obstacles to combating HIV/AIDS.
“Stigma against HIV has been a very significant problem in faith communities, in part because of … some of the people who are involved — men who have sex with men, drug users, sex workers — and in part because it’s about sex. And sex is not a comfortable conversation for a lot of faith-based organizations,” Dybul said.
He explained that a “culture of life,” a central and valued part of many faiths, has come into conflict with the concept of contraception.
“There is always opportunity in challenge, and we have the opportunity to grow in wisdom together,” he said.
He acknowledged the difficulty of such an initiative in economically challenging times but also stressed that these solutions were “simple (and) inexpensive.”
Such measures include procedures like male circumcision, which reduces the spread of HIV/AIDS by 60 percent. Giving HIV/AIDS medication to the uninfected prevents them from getting the disease.
“(Treating the disease directly) drives down the amount of virus in the body so it reduces the ability of a person to transmit the virus by 96 percent,” Dybul said. “By putting these things together, what we call combination prevention … we have the science to drive HIV into the ground — to make it virtually go away.”
Dybul believes it is possible to continue to heal HIV/AIDS patients and to remain economically responsible.
“We surely can get our fiscal house in order while at the same time saving and lifting up lives and ensuring we’re using the money we have wisely, being stewards of this world, of our resources,” he said. “We know when we act out of faith and love, anything is possible.”