International AIDS Conference: The Church Responds
By Craig von Buseck &
AIDS is spreading like wildfire throughout parts of the developing
world, and it could threaten the world's leading powers, like the U.S., China,
and Europe. That warning was issued as the International AIDS Conference recently
concluded in Barcelona, Spain.
Speakers said the spread of AIDS through
Africa and parts of Asia, including China, could lead to major social and economic
problems in those regions. Those could spill over to the U.S. and beyond. Seventeen
million Africans have died since the AIDS epidemic began in the late 1970s, more
than 3.3. million of those were children. An additional 12 million children have
been orphaned by AIDS. Nearly nine percent of adults in Africa are infected with
HIV/AIDS and in seven African countries at least one adult in five is living with
And the worst may yet lie ahead.
A recent report released by
the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) warns that the AIDS epidemic
is still in an early phase. HIV prevalence is climbing higher than previously
believed possible in the worst affected countries and is continuing to spread
rapidly into new populations in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe.
New data in the report indicate that the theories that the epidemic might
"level off" in heavily affected countries, due to a decline in the pool of people
at risk, are being disproved as the epidemic continues to expand even in countries
that already had extremely high HIV prevalence.
In Botswana, the country
with the highest HIV infection rates in the world, almost 39% of all adults are
now living with HIV, up from less than 36% two years ago. In Zimbabwe, a country
in which already one quarter of adults were HIV-positive in 1997, one-third were
infected by the end of 2001. In five other countries, the HIV prevalence rate
in adults now also exceeds 20%.
The UNAIDS report projects that, in the
absence of drastically expanded prevention and treatment efforts, 68 million people
will die because of AIDS in the 45 most affected countries between 2000 and 2020,
more than five times the 13 million deaths of the previous two decades of the
epidemic in those countries.
In a number of southern African countries,
where prevalence rates are highest, up to one-half of new mothers could die of
AIDS. In South Africa alone, it is estimated that at the epidemic's peak there
will be 17 times as many deaths among people aged 15-34 than there would have
been without AIDS.
The report also indicates that, in many other parts
of the world, HIV has moved beyond groups considered to be at highest risk of
infection and is now spreading at an accelerated pace in the wider population:
- In the Guangxi province of China, HIV infection rates in studies
among people in the sex industry showed an increase from 0% in 1996 to 11% in
2000, indicating a strong advance in the sexual spread of the disease there. Countrywide,
reported HIV infections rose nearly 70% in just the first six months of 2001.
- Infection rates are now rising rapidly among a number
of populations in Indonesia, the world's fourth-most populous country, following
a decade of consistently low infection rates there.
In the Russian Federation and Eastern Europe, home to the fastest growing epidemic
in the world, HIV is now moving from injecting drug users into the wider population.
In Ukraine, almost 25% of new infections now occur through heterosexual contact.
- In parts of Western and Central Africa, where infection
rates have been high but relatively steady, there is now evidence of rapidly accelerating
HIV spread. In Cameroon, for example, the adult prevalence rate, which remained
in the low single digits from 1988 through 1996, is now at almost 12%.
data demonstrate that HIV/AIDS is spreading rapidly in parts of the world where
the epidemic had seemed stable or was previously confined to groups at highest
risk of infection," said Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS.
the epidemic continues to spread in almost every part of the world, young people
are at greatest risk for infection. Today, approximately half of all new adult
infections are among young people aged 15-24. Almost 12 million young people are
now living with HIV, and about 6,000 more become infected every day. At the same
time, fourteen million children living today have lost one or both parents to
AIDS, and this number will continue to grow rapidly, as the number of adults dying
of AIDS rises over the coming years.
Criticism Against the Church
The Christian Church drew criticism at the International AIDS Conference,
as conference attendees attacked Africa's Protestant and Roman Catholic churches
for promoting abstinence instead of condoms.
Raymond Martin of Christian
Connections for International Health called the criticism unfair. He pointed out
that African churches are caring for orphans and those who are dying of AIDS.
And he noted that teaching abstinence has reduced the infection rate in countries
like Uganda. Martin said the seminars and workshops in Spain were reduced to "religion-bashing"
Yet amid the criticism, Christian leaders remained true to the
biblical message of compassion, abstinence, and fidelity within marriage. Assist
News Service reported that churches around the world were called to action to
help equip their leadership with tools to create HIV and AIDS ministries in their
The call came during the only breakout session designated
to discuss faith-based issues at the AIDS Conference. Called "Healing through
prayer, education, advocacy and service" the seminar was presented by The Balm
in Gilead, Inc., an HIV/AIDS ministry to those of African descent and based in
New York City.
The Rev. Alberta Ware, Director of HIV/AIDS and Community
Mobilization for The Balm in Gilead ministry said, "Prayer is the foundation of
all it all and that is where we have to start to cross over between the denominations.
If we start with prayer and end with prayer, it's the best way to light the way."
The group revealed that they have been running a "Black Church HIV Testing
Campaign" which is just one of their activities funded by the Center for Disease
Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. Rev. Ware said that they were able
to test more people in one black church in Akron, Ohio, than the local health
department had in the whole city. "This," she said, "shows the strength of the
black church in America."
Kathi Winter, an HIV-positive Christian businesswoman
from Costa Mesa, California, who attended the session said, "I was very surprised
at how realistic and grass roots the tools where that they gave us to go to our
pastors and church bodies. These included an AIDS training institute and a technical
assistance center to give people the local facts on HIV and AIDS."
than 100 people who attended the session were given free literature that the ministry
is making available, including "Blessed are They Who Comfort," a booklet used
to engage pastors. Another booklet is entitled "Extending Grace: An AIDS Ministry
Handbook," including HIV facts and examples of ministry application.
learned during this session that we should not expect people within our congregation
to come forth right away with their HIV status until the church has established
the ministry in the community," Ms. Winter said. "It was suggested that the way
to do that was to call on the heads of organizations already in their own congregation,
such as the choir, the ushers, the elders, the women's group, the youth group,
and the homeless outreach, and embed the new ministry in work that these ministries
are already doing."
Rev. Ware agreed, "After a while, people will come
forward and disclose the problems they are having by being affected or infected
In addition to its work in America, this ministry also
has an international office in Uganda, and there was a great deal of discussion
during the session about the AIDS crisis in Africa.The Rev. Evatt Magarura, a
Ugandan Anglican minister, addressed the questions that came from the Africans
in the class about stigma.
One woman asked, "How can we encourage our people
get tested then if they test positive, they get kicked out of the church or the
pastor refuses to marry them?"
Rev. Magarura said that it is important
for people to reveal as much information about the topic without confronting the
people, thereby removing the stigma about testing.
"What made this so unique,"
said Ms. Winter, "was that no where else in the AIDS conference was this being
discussed. It was encouraging to me that they were declaring the power of faith
in the life of someone living with HIV."
Taking it to the People
well-known Christian leader says it's time for more Christians to fight AIDS,
worldwide. Evangelist Franklin Graham recently hosted an international conference
on HIV and AIDS in Washington, D.C., called "Prescription for Hope." He said the
church must take leadership in overcoming the HIV-AIDS crisis around the world.
"Unfortunately, and shamefully, maybe, the church has been somewhat asleep
on this issue," Graham declared.
"We need to sound the alarm," Graham said.
"We need a new army of men and women who are prepared to go around the world to
help fight this battle." Six times more people died from AIDS in the U.S. last
year, Graham noted, than died in the World Trade Center attack in New York. The
problem is so bad that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has deemed
AIDS its number one public health issue.
Graham wants the Christian community
to address the AIDS crisis with compassion, action, and hope.
on the criticism leveled against the church at the recent International AIDS Conference,
Pat Robertson called for action by world leaders, while also calling on repentance
and a return to biblical morality to curb the spread of the disease.
we face the root cause of this disease and admit that the lifestyles of people
are causing the plague, we are never going to get our hands around it. It is devastating
thing. And we need to spend money. They want 10 billion dollars. That may seem
cheap in years to come. We need a cure and prevention."
"They are looking
at the possibility of one million teachers dying in Africa," Robertson reported
on The 700 Club. "One million teachers will not be available for the children,
and a quarter of all of the children in Africa will be orphans. If this thing
gets to China and spreads over to Indonesia and other countries it will be a crisis
of major proportions. It is rivaling any plague."
While calling for political
and social action, Robertson said that ultimately the only way to curb this global
crisis will be if people turn away from sinful behavior. "AIDS is being spread
virtually exclusively by homosexual activity, or in terms of women by unprotected
heterosexual sex. The level of promiscuity in our world is shocking. And now we
have a disease (AIDS) that is so deadly, it is dismantling the population. The
way to stop it is to counsel abstinence."
"Instead, those in this AIDS
Conference are going after people who are telling folks the answer. They don't
want to hear the answer. They want unrestricted sex. When they catch the disease
they will not blame the sex, but they will blame the disease. Well, the disease
is spread through a lifestyle that needs to be changed. It is that simple."
more HIV/AIDS-related information, contact He Intends Victory
Or call: 800/HIV-HOPE.
AIDS health info, contact the Centers for Disease Control
National AIDS Hotline: 1-800-342-2437
National HIV/AIDS Hotline (Spanish): 1-800-344-7432
The Honey That Kills: Combating AIDS With the Gospel
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The International AIDS Conference: The Church Responds
Rick Warren Takes Public HIV Test on World AIDS Day
Scriptures for study: Matthew 8:2-3, 9:35-36,
Luke 5:12-16, John 8:1-7, James 2:1-13, 5:14-16, Proverbs 14:34.
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