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Melanesian Messenger Online distributed by the
Church of the Province of Melanesia
 
COM launched HIV and AIDS Policy
 
MELANESIAN MESSENGER 080328-2
March 28, 2008

[Melanesian Messenger - Melanesia] The Church of Melanesia launched its HIV and AIDS policy and programme on 19th March 2008 in Honiara, Solomon Islands with a strong conviction to effectively respond to the HIV and AIDS epidemic at all levels of the Church within the province.

Below is the launching address by the Aid and Programme Officer of the Church of Melanesia Mr. Tony Maelasi. The Aid and Program Unit was heavily involved in the planning process and the eventual development of the policy; a policy that would be the guide for the Church in its planning and implementation of HIV programs within the Church in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

COM HIV PROGRAMME

In the last 10 years we have seen a number of HIV programs been implemented in the Church by the Ministry of Health and other NGOs but it has been sporadic and uncoordinated. The Church Of Melanesia through the Melanesian Board of Mission has been mandated in its Strategic Plan and endorsed by the General Synod in 2005 to develop relevant HIV and AIDS Policy and Programs to address the issue of HIV and AIDS that has become a global challenge facing not only the health sector but more so the Body of Christ. Given the high infection rate of Sexually Transmitted Infections and research showing young people engaging in sexual activities as early 12 years of age in the country, the proximity of Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to PNG, the Church is committed to taking appropriate actions to prevent and reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS in our communities in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
In the last 5 years, various groups and organizations within the Church have been involved in HIV awareness and education programs in our different dioceses in collaboration with other stakeholders and NGOs. Their efforts have certainly been acknowledged through their involvement and participation in the whole planning process of the Church's HIV program.

Key events in the development of COM HIV Program

1. COM Strategic Planning Workshop 2005
In 2005 at the HQ of the Sisters of the Church at TNK, the Church run a Strategic Planning meeting at TNK to develop a 3-5 year Plan for the Church in terms of its mission and ministry. Prominent leaders and workers within the PHQ and dioceses participated at that meeting. HIV and AIDS issues were seriously considered to be an issue for the Church to address in the next 3 years. The recommendations from that strategic planning were then forwarded to the General Synod the same year and were accepted as part of the Church of Melanesia?s mission and ministry and programs.

2. Training and fact-finding mission to PNG
In 2006 through the support of one of our overseas partners in mission, the Anglican Board of Mission in Australia funded two workers from the Church to attend the Peer Education training for Trainers as well as to visit prominent establishment and HIV programs run by the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea. That initial visit became the focal point in the whole planning and consultation processes that followed in getting the COM to develop its program in terms of its response to HIV in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. The Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea has been very supportive at different levels in allowing us to use their resources and materials and to that we thank God for them, including their HIV Policy.

3. COM HIV and AIDS Policy
In 2007 a report of that trip was produced as well as a concept paper outlining the framework for developing an effective HIV Program within the Church. That went through to the Council of Bishops and the recommendations were endorsed. The Aid and Program Unit within MBM started work on a number of strategies in getting the whole planning process underway. One of the recommendations was for the Church to have its HIV Policy to guide the Church in its planning and implementation of HIV programs within the Church.
Regular meetings by members of the different organizations within the Church who are involved in HIV work were held and we began developing the policy using the ACPNG one as a model. This then had to go through the COB and eventually was finalized toward the end of 2007.

4. TEAM Conference South Africa
In March of last year again with the support from ABM, Bishop David Vunagi led a team to attend a Conference in South Africa. The focus was on the Millennium Development Goals which include HIV and AIDS as one of the issues the Anglican Church need to focus on. During this visit, we were able to visit a number of HIV projects and programs funded by AngliCord and ABM and were able to learn more about the HIV epidemic and its impact on families and communities in that part of the world.

5. AngliCord support to start COM HIV Program
In June of 2007, the Church through the Mission Secretary and the General Secretary office accepted an offer by AngliCORD, also one of our supporters in mission, to assist the Church in developing and begin initial implementation of HIV programs within the Church from 2007 and beyond. Given that offer, the Church sees it as timely and we were able to access funding for our activities.
MBM has allocated responsibility for facilitating HIV planning to be temporarily co-ordinated by COM's Women's Desk Officer and the Aid and Program Officer. As part of the program, the Church was then able to employ a full time Coordinator and bulk of the coordination and management roles will be gradually taken over. The HIV/AIDS Coordinator position is vital in coordinating HIV work across the COM. The intention of the strategy is not only to respond to the immediate needs of awareness raising and education but to be pro-active and anticipate what services is needed to be put in place for coming years if the virus extends into the population.
Each strategy falls within the frame work of the Solomon Islands National HIV and AIDS Policy, and Vanuatu's Policy and Strategic Plan for HIV and AIDS and STI's 2003. 2007. All activities are geared toward addressing and contributing to the key result areas of these policies and results will be shared with each countries National AIDS Council and stakeholders to form part of the national data.

6. Current COM HIV Program
The overall goal of COM?s HIV and AIDS program is to build a HIV/AIDS responsive structure within the church that will increase awareness of the transmission and prevention of HIV; reduce risk behaviour leading to the spread of the virus within the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, and to eventually develop care and counselling services for those who are HIV positive. As part of the multi-sectoral approach to HIV prevention the Church of Melanesia plays an important role as a stakeholder in the SI and Vanuatu National HIV response by establishing partnerships with Government and other NGOs in HIV education and awareness as well as advocating for the rights of people living with the virus.

The COM HIV Program since last year has engaged in the following activities;

o COM Schools Teachers Workshop
In the Solomon Islands the Church has 5 Primary, 4 Secondary Schools and 5 Rural and Ministry Training Centres (RTC) in 5 different Provinces, totalling over 3000 staff and students at any one time. In Vanuatu there are 2 secondary schools and 2 RTC?s. Given the cultural and religious sensitivities, programs will incorporate gender approaches in the dissemination of HIV information in the schools, training centres and communities. As one of our planned activities for last year, we had conducted a workshop for teachers from all COM Schools in Solomon Islands, with two Education representatives from Vanuatu. The aim of the workshop was to bring together teachers and staff from all COM Schools, Rural Training Centers and Ministry Training Centers to have an initial discussion on identifying and where appropriate, developing relevant HIV curriculum for schools and training centers both in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. A steering committee has been put in place to oversee the development of curriculum that will build on core material developed by the Anglican Church in PNG. Further workshops is being planned to train teachers in the curriculum in the first half of 2008 in Solomon Islands and around August for Vanuatu.

o COM HIV Desk Coordinator
As part of the Church?s long term commitment to addressing HIV in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, we saw the need and importance of having a full time coordinator based at the Provincial level and to help develop and implement relevant HIV programs and plans at the diocese and institutions level. The coordinator will play a significant role in driving the Church's HIV program and help build the resource base to support HIV programs in the Church in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

o Teachers training on HIV Curriculum for COM Schools and RTCs
A training workshop for teachers will follow on to get them to look at the draft HIV curriculum to be developed using the Anglican Church of PNG HIV Manual as a model and with other available resources and materials. It should be ready to be trialed in the Church schools as of the second semester of 2008 if all goes according to plan.
o Diocesan HIV Planning and Consultation

The Diocesan HIV Planning and Consultation will bring about all the Dioceses and Religious Orders to begin initial discussions on what makes an effective HIV program in the dioceses. It is also a time to take stock of the dioceses, position in terms of their readiness to take on HIV programs including identifying the likely cultural and religious difficulties and challenges. It is anticipated that this will be a good opportunity for the dioceses to hear of what other people are doing in the region that we can learn from and build on and strengthened.

7. Conclusion
The COM HIV Program has certainly come a long way, and the journey so far has not been an easy one. It has just started and battle in combating the spread of the virus is far from over if we were to see impacts and results within our communities. Dealing with issues of this nature will always raise eyebrows and concerns from all sectors within the Church as there will be conflicting values and cultural and religious sensitivities that we need to deal with. It won't happen overnight, and that will always be part of the process.

May I last of all call upon all of us to continue to strengthen our networks as we all know, one organization cannot do it all by itself. We need one another and it is our hope that we will continue to see that happen at all levels as we all have one goal and that is to stop the spread of the virus and most importantly to further the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ in loving care and compassion for those infected and affected by HIV.