Faith-Based Consortium Receives $8.2 Million Grant to Tackle HIV/AIDS Pandemic

The Association of Evangelical Relief and Development Organizations (AERDO) has won an $8.2 million, five-year federal grant aimed at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. The funding, which comes from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), will mobilize faith-based and community organizations to help millions of youth and hundreds of thousands of adults avoid behaviors that increase their chances of contracting the deadly infection.

Phoenix-based Food for the Hungry, one of nine faith-based organizations working together to assemble a positive, proactive response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, requested the funds from PEPFAR in an effort to support AERDO—to which the nine agencies are members of. Though PEPFAR—a $15 billion federal government initiative—currently focuses on 15 countries around the world that currently experience the greatest HIV/AIDS prevalence, the grant emphasizes abstinence-based education in three African countries and Haiti.

The program, officially titled, “Healthy Choices Leading to Life: Improving Sexual Behavior of Youth in Ethiopia, Haiti, Mozambique and Nigeria,” will see Food for the Hungry lead work in Ethiopia and Mozambique, while the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee for HIV/AIDS oversees work in Nigeria, and World Concern coordinates the work in Haiti. Other partners—Nazarene Compassionate Ministries, Operation Blessing International, World Hope International, Salvation Army World Service Organization, Medical Ambassadors International, and MAP International—will be part of the orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) program.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will oversee the program.

“Doing something about HIV/AIDS is something that organizations and even nations can unify around,” said Ben Homan, president of Food for the Hungry. “The disease is a ruthless and a common enemy. Not only do we rally together to defeat HIV/AIDS, but we hope that our common ground can likewise lead to solving more of the serious issues that face the world today.”

“As terrible as the HIV/AIDS toll is—and an awful as it yet still could become—we stand at a moment of opportunity that could tear down past barriers and divisions,” he added.

Africa, the continent hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic, has seen the ravaging disease claim nearly 30 million of the world’s 40 million victims. Particularly impacted are young people, who typically begin sexual activity up to a year prior to marriage. Food for the Hungry reports that people between the ages of 15 and 24 account for half of all new infections.

“If these young people can be persuaded to postpone sexual activity for even a year, this will significantly impact the health and well-being of thousands of adolescents, not to mention help curtail the spread of the devastating disease,” the relief and development agency stated.

And so the program aims to educate younger youth in skills needed to avoid contracting HIV, promote healthy standards and behaviors within communities, reinforce the positive role parents and other protective influences can play in the lives of youth, and address issues of sexual coercion, violence, and exploitation of youth.

Food for the Hungry reports that about half the money is earmarked for promoting abstinence in youth, with faithfulness in marriage and reduction of unhealthy behaviors receiving 35 and 15 percent of the funds, respectively.

Homan, who is also part of the AERDO Executive Committee, commented, “Just as Christians in other eras and places have pioneered care for lepers and responses to plagues and epidemics, the time has come for the western-based church to respond to HIV/AIDS.”

“One of the powerful, leveraging parts of this grant is how it will help mobilize even more volunteers and other private donations to take on this tough but needed task,” Homan said, adding that the journey is now just beginning. “Much work is set before us—and we have only begun to scratch the surface of the most serious humanitarian crisis (HIV/AIDS) now facing the world.”

This grant, along with a PEPFAR $10 million grant for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), brings the total to nearly $18.2 million federal funding for the AERDO faith-based consortium.