AJAN is implementing a new Strategic Plan in a global AIDS scenario where light and darkness are competing for the upper hand.
The motto of AJAN, ‘Working towards fullness of life’, inspires this Strategic Plan as it did the Network’s previous one. The plan, which runs from this year until 2020, was drafted with the help of Kenyan experts, Strategic Dimensions, who first conducted an evaluation of AJAN with the participation of members and partners.
The new AJAN plan takes on tough challenges that persistently impede progress against AIDS in Africa, among them stigma and the plight of HIV-positive adolescents.
Nowadays, there is plenty of international buoyancy about AIDS, with ambitious pledges to eradicate it by 2030. And indeed tremendous gains have been registered, especially evident in declining numbers of new infections and enhanced access to treatment.
But stark warnings from veterans in the struggle against AIDS are resounding. Funding for HIV is ever on the downturn. Globally there are still two million new infections per year, 60% of them among women and girls. Drug resistance is an increasing problem, so that many people living with HIV in developing countries need more expensive medication.
And despite massive prevention efforts, changing mind-sets remains an uphill struggle, not least in persuading people not to engage in behaviours that expose them to the risk of HIV and, if they are diagnosed positive, to start taking their medication for HIV when they must.
Sub-Saharan Africa remains by far the most heavily affected continent. Constant vigilance against complacency is a must, not least because upbeat news coverage could tend to obliterate the huge risk and suffering facing certain vulnerable groups.
The AJAN Strategic Plan specifically mentions the multiple needs of a generation of HIV-positive adolescents and the urgency of mitigating the vulnerability of other young people to infection.
To this end, AJAN intends to continue rolling out AHAPPY, its highly successful education package, which is carefully tailored for African youth and places HIV prevention in the context of holistic growth.
AJAN plans to draw on other best practices that have been developed over years of Jesuit AIDS ministry. There are three other areas of focus in the Strategic Plan: intensifying the fight against stigma at individual and community levels; extending community-based healthcare in underserved rural areas; and promoting sustainable livelihoods for people living with HIV, so that they can look after themselves and their families.
To be able to fulfil its goals, AJAN is well aware that it needs to keep HIV and AIDS firmly on the agenda of the Jesuits and the rest of the Church.
Key to success in this area is another clearly stated goal in AJAN’s Strategic Plan: “motivated and empowered Jesuits, pastoral agents, and others”.
This is a tactical move. Many priests, sisters and lay pastoral workers are still keeping back – frequently out of fear – from offering pastoral support to people with HIV and others affected by AIDS.
Experts have described this tendency as one of the weakest responses of our Church and underlined the importance of training clergy and others to offer pastoral accompaniment in a positive, non-judgmental way.
At the same time, there are of course countless priests, sisters and other pastoral agents who are deeply committed to AIDS ministry and who would welcome further training.
AJAN is already doing much in this area. Apart from giving several workshops in Jesuit houses of formation, often open to other religious congregations too, AJAN this year launched an online certificate course in HIV and AIDS pastoral and community care.
This is the first course to be offered by AHELP (AJAN’s HIV and AIDS E-Learning Program). It was initiated in collaboration with the German-based Medical Mission Institute (MMI) and is to be accredited by a Catholic University College in Nairobi.
The third strategic area outlined in the new AJAN plan is one sorely needed to achieve so much with – relatively – so little: investing in the sustainability of AJAN. This area covers the need to consolidate a sustainable financial resource base for the Network; to strengthen the coordinating capacity of AJAN House; and to provide support to AJAN field projects to mobilise resources from local and international agencies.