Faith Groups Address HIV Increase among Hispanics

The Hispanic community is the fastest growing minority population in the United States and is swelling church attendance numbers. Recent reports, however, have also indicated increasingly alarming HIV/AIDS statistics within the community.

The Centers for Disease Control cited that Hispanics living with AIDS in 2002 accounted for more than 20 percent of all people living with the disease. But Hispanics only make up 14 percent of the country's population, according to the Rev. Luis Cortes, Jr, president of Esperanza USA.

Esperanza USA, the largest Hispanic faith-based organization in the nation, is partnering with American Bible Society to implement initiatives to address the growing trend of HIV/AIDS along with domestic violence incidents among Hispanics. The strategic alliance was announced during the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. early this month.

"I am excited about collaborating with Esperanza USA, because together we can bring a holistic ministry to the Latino community that resides in our country," said the Rev. Emilio A. Reyes, vice president of Hispanic/Latino Ministries of American Bible Society. "Through our partnership we will reach many that have yet to experience the life-changing message of the Bible."

Earlier, Esperanza announced educational materials and debuted the trailer to "No te rindas" (Don't Give Up) – the first film depicting the epidemic in the Hispanic church – at the group's HIV/AIDS Initiative Dinner. The short film will premiere in several cities across the nation in Hispanic churches throughout the summer and fall.

More resources will be provided for distribution to clergy members and others through the ABS partnership including The Lord Hears Your Cries: Hope and Strength from the Scriptures in the Midst of Domestic Violence and Nothing Can Separate Us from the Love of God. The bilingual publications will serve to break down the stigma of the disease and educate the church on the two growing trends of HIV/AIDS and domestic violence.

The world just passed the 25th anniversary of the first reported case of HIV/AIDS. Still, after a quarter-century of battling what many call "the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time," the stigma attached to AIDS remains and the epidemic has yet to let up after infecting more than 65 million people worldwide.

"I think we will see a further globalization of the epidemic spreading to every single corner of the planet," UNAIDS head Peter Piot told The Associated Press.

"One group we are seeing much more is Hispanic women - not considered a high-risk group," said Dr. Fritz Bredeek, an infectious-disease physician at Special Immunology Associates, the largest HIV/AIDS practice in Southern Arizona, according to Arizona Daily Star. "These are women who have been married once or twice who never knew their husbands had sex outside of the marriage."

Esperanza USA is a network of Hispanic Christians, churches and ministries in the country committed to raising awareness and identifying resources that strengthen the Hispanic community.