HIV Battle All About Partnership, Says AIDS Expert

Prominent church leaders and HIV/AIDS experts agreed Tuesday that partnerships among different sectors of society is the best way forward in the battle against history's deadliest disease.

"After 25 years, HIV is still a new disease, and we need new strategies, tools and programs," said Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, executive secretary of the National AIDS Control Commission of Rwanda, at a panel discussion for the XVII International AIDS Conference.

"This is all about partnership, and if we partner it is because we are different, not because we are the same."

Binagwaho's call to forge partnership echoed that of panel moderators Kay and Rick Warren. The Warrens have long championed a partnership model amongst the government, faith, and business sectors in the battle against HIV/AIDS.

"Both a one-legged and a two-legged stool will fall over, but a three-legged stool will stand," Pastor Rick Warren said, referring to the government, business and church segments of society.

"Each of these sectors brings something to the table that the others don't have," he said. "If you say the faith community cannot participate in healthcare, you have just taken out most of the world because the amount of those without faith in the world is very small."

At Tuesday's panel discussion, Binagwaho offered statistics that revealed how 40 percent of the more than 430 healthcare facilities in Rwanda belong to a church. Moreover, more than 98 percent of the people in the country live within 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) from a church and the local pastor has the trust of most people in the village, making him an ideal candidate to provide healthcare needs, she said.

From the business sector, panelist Dale Dawson – a businessman who formerly was an investment banker for one of the wealthiest families in America – shared how he is using his resources and skills as an expert in business to help bring healthcare to children in Rwanda.

"One of the unusual things about this partnership with Rwanda is that I'm not in the same position to lead with the vision that the Rwandans are," said Dale, who is chair of Opportunity International's President's Council and founder of Bridge2Rwanda.

"My role in this is much different; in America, I can lead, as it is my mission, my country and my culture. But in Rwanda, I'm in fact a servant. I'm not a minister, and I'm not a missionary, I'm a businessman who is trying to find significance in the second half of my life – and there are many others like me."

Others who participated in the panel discussion Tuesday included Dr. Gil Odendaal, global director of Saddleback Church's HIV/AIDS Initiative; and Elizabeth Styffe, co-director and executive director of the Saddleback Orphan Care Initiative and Western Rwanda HIV/AIDS Healthcare Initiative; and Emmanuel Kolini, archbishop of the Anglican Church in Rwanda and chairman of the National Commission for the Fight Against HIV/AIDS, Interfaith/Rwanda, the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace and the steering committee for the Purpose Driven/P.E.A.C.E. Plan in Rwanda.

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