Faith Leaders Urge Global Solidarity Against HIV

Christian leaders, who are now more engaged in the HIV/AIDS battle than ever, are calling for solidarity in the fight against the global pandemic on the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day.

AIDS is "manageable and treatable although not curable," stated former leader of South Africa's Anglican church Archbishop Njongo Ndungane to the Amsterdam- and Cape Town-based World AIDS Campaign, founded by UNAIDS.

Ndungane urged faith leaders to help remove the stigma that AIDS is a punishment from God and teach that it is a preventable medical condition.

"Faith leaders should hence commit themselves to working towards achieving a generation without AIDS, and show loving care and support for those infected," the South African Christian leader said.

"They should develop and implement imaginative strategies to fight stigmatization, ensure that infected people have access to the essential needs like nutrition and medical care, as well as encourage those not infected to stay uninfected."

Linda Hartke, head of Geneva-based Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), hopes that the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day will be a time "to take stock of the faith-based response to HIV and AIDS."

"We can be inspired by the committed efforts of people of faith all over the world who have for so long provided care and support … for a concerted global response that will reverse the spread of HIV, and eventually eradicate AIDS," she said, according to Ecumenical News International.

Among those at the forefront of Christian engagement in the HIV/AIDS battle is Dr. Rick Warren, who with the support of his church – Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. – launched the first church-based HIV/AIDS conference in 2005.

Warren along with fellow megachurch pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago had publicly apologized at the 2005 Global Summit on AIDS and The Church for being blind to the pain and suffering of HIV/AIDS victims for so long. They also made a commitment to advocate for more Church engagement in the fight against the epidemic.

On Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, the "Purpose Driven" pastor will honor President George W. Bush for his significant contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS. Bush established the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has seen the United States give more than $18.8 billion to combat global HIV/AIDS since 2003.

President Bush will mark World AIDS Day by announcing that his administration has already met its goal of treating two million people living with HIV/AIDS by the end of the year, the White House announced, according to Agence France-Presse.

"PEPFAR is the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in human history," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a statement.

"When the President launched this initiative in 2003, approximately 50,000 people in all of sub-Saharan Africa were receiving anti-retroviral treatment."

Five years later, PEPFAR has provided anti-retroviral treatment for over 2.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS around the world, including more than 2 million people in Sub Saharan Africa.

Moreover, PEPFAR has given "compassionate care" to nearly 9.7 million people affected by HIV/AIDS, Perino said.

"God calls us to speak for the voices that cannot be heard, and now more than ever the voice of faith leaders ought to be heard," said the Rev. Annie Kaseketi, trainer and mentor with World Vision's Church Partnership on Gender Development in the Africa Region, to the World AIDS Campaign. "We cannot afford to leave our interventions at VCT [voluntary counseling and testing], support and care. We are being called to extend our response to complete restoration."

Other Christian groups contributing to the fight against AIDS include Baltimore-based World Relief, which has recorded more than 700,000 abstinence or marital faithfulness commitments in AIDS hot spots in Africa and the Caribbean; and World Evangelical Alliance, which recently unanimously affirmed a Call to Action statement on HIV/AIDS.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic has claimed more than 25 million lives, with an estimated 33 million people currently living with HIV worldwide. An estimated 2.1 million children under the age of 15 are living with HIV.

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