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Release Date: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 1:29 PM
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Media Contact:
Ron Harris
Director of Communications
Howard University Kicks Off 19th Annual International AIDS Conference with Global Interfaith

WASHINGTON (July 20, 2012) --Howard University, the Balm of Gilead and Howard’s AIDS Education Training Center National Multicultural Center kicked off the 19th International AIDS Conference today with a global interfaith pre-conference at Howard.

Nearly 1,000 religious leaders and delegates from India, South Africa, Reunion Island, Malawi, the United Kingdom, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and other nations representing a variety of faiths met Friday to hammer out how the faith community can take the lead in tackling HIV/AIDS.  The conference’s them is “Taking Action for Health, Dignity and Justice.”

Pernessa Seele, CEO and founder of the Balm in Gilead, a religious organization that targets the needs of African Americans and Africans, urged the international group not to forget “Mother Africa’s children here in the United States” as they go about their deliberations.

“African-American’s account for more new AIDS cases and AIDS-related deaths in the United States than any other group,” Seele said. “African Americans are more affected by this disease than any other ethnicity. Right now in the U.S., someone is dying because they cannot access the care they need for AIDS and HIV.”

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, whose brother died of AIDS, reminded the audience that it was 31 years ago on June 5 that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the first account “of a deadly disease affecting gay men in Los Angeles.”

Benjamin said that under President Obama, the U.S. for the first time has a plan to combat the disease.  The plan has three goals:
  • Reduce new infections
  • Improve access to care
  • Reduce HIV/AIDS health disparities

She urged the group to make significant progress during their two-day conference.

“We need our faith leaders to take action,” she said. “It will take all of us to make the world HIV/AIDS free.”

Dr. Paul De Lay, deputy executive director for UNAIDS, explained how important it is that this year’s International AIDS Conference begin with the interfaith conference.

“I think it will put the discussion of this disease in a perspective that will make it more human, respectful and truly engage the community,” De Lay said.

Howard University is hosting the conference at Cramton Auditorium and Blackburn Center.  It is co-chaired by Alton B. Pollard, Ph.D., dean of the Howard University School of Divinity, and Goulda A. Downer, Ph.D., principal investigator for the AIDS Education Training Center National Multicultural Center.

Holding the preconference at Howard is significant, Pollard said.

“Having this global conference at Howard allows us to put the spotlight on the dire epidemic among African Americans locally and nationally,” he said.  “Further, it positions Howard University as a major contributor to combating the epidemic in communities of African descent worldwide.” 

For more information on the interfaith pre-conference and other faith-based events at AIDS 2012 visit


Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university that is comprised of 13 schools and colleges. Students pursue studies in more than 120 areas leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. Since 1998, the University has produced two Rhodes Scholars, two Truman Scholars, a Marshall Scholar, 24 Fulbright Scholars and 11 Pickering Fellows. Howard also produces more on campus African-American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, call 202-238-2330, or visit the University's Web site at

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