Though the Church has been criticized for being late to the HIV/AIDS fight, Christians around the world are now actively working to educate people about the deadly disease and dispel dangerous myths.
In Zimbabwe, The Evangelical Alliance Mission is working to educate the youth about treatment and medicine for those infected by the HIV virus. TEAM's effort is in response to a dangerous myth that is spreading across Africa that an HIV-positive man can be cured by having sex with a virgin. Because it is hard to find a virgin adult woman, many of these men are raping young girls and infecting them with the virus.
Mark Clark, based in TEAM's U.S. office, calls the myth the "Great Lie" that Satan is spreading throughout the continent, according to Mission Network News.
He further noted that these young girls who are raped and now infected with HIV are often abandoned by their families because of the belief that those carrying the virus are cursed and should be avoided.
"The tendency is to see someone in that situation (HIV positive) and think, 'Oh, they're getting what they deserve; they've sinned, therefore this is a result of sin," Clark said.
But he urges those in Africa as well as Christians elsewhere to change their mindset. He also encourages Christians to understand that everyone needs God and it is important to love the sinner and fight the sin.
More than 33 million people worldwide are living with HIV, up 20 percent since 2000, according to the new UNAIDS Epidemic Update 2009. The report shows that Sub Saharan Africa remains the worst affected area with more than 22.4 million HIV-positive people.
However, the report also highlighted that new HIV infections have declined each year by about 17 percent from 2001 to 2008. Last year, about 2.7 million people were newly infected with HIV, compared with about 3.3 million in 2001. But the number of people living with HIV in the world currently is still the highest in history.
The U.N. report also noted that about 4 million people were receiving AIDS drugs at the end of 2008, up from 3 million the previous year. But another 5 million people who needed treatment are not receiving it.
Pacific School of Religion, a multidenominational Christian seminary in Berkeley, Calif., is helping to raise awareness about AIDS and to encourage openness about the disease. The school is offering free HIV testing and a chapel service on campus on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1. The events are co-sponsored by PSR's Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, and New Spirit Community Church of Berkeley.
"We want to send a clear message to people with HIV/AIDS that they have a prominent place of welcome in the member churches of our seminary, including the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, and the Metropolitan Community Churches," said the Rev. Jim Mitulski, Mitulski, who is HIV-positive and the pastor of New Spirit Community Church, in a statement.
Other denominations that have been vocal on World AIDS Day include the Anglican Communion and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
World AIDS Day was established by the World Health Organization on Dec. 1, 1988, to raise awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infections. The day is also devoted to raising money, fighting prejudice and improving education about the disease.