Louisville, Ky. (PNS) More than 30 years ago the AIDS pandemic first entered the consciousness of the American people. In spite of overwhelming scientific advances in prevention and ways in which to help those living with HIV and AIDS, there is still a stigma borne by those with the disease. There is a growing movement from within the interfaith community on behalf of those afflicted to assist them in living productive and healthy lives.
“hiv & aids: Awareness & Compassion,” a CBS Interfaith Special documenting the religious groups’ efforts, was broadcast Sunday, June 17, on the CBS Television Network. Following the air date, the program may be viewed again at www.cbsnews.com/religionculture.
The program highlights the work of START (Syringe, Training, Advocacy, Resources and Treatment), a harm reduction, prevention and awareness initiative sponsored by Westminster Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. We hear from Executive Director George Kerr, Program Director Ron Daniels and church Co-Pastor Brian Hamilton about the program.
The special visits Food & Friends, which delivers free meals to those with HIV or AIDS in the Washington, D.C. area. The program began in the basement of the Westminster Church and has expanded to a new location where they delivered more than 1.2 million free meals to those with life-challenging illnesses. We hear from Craig Shniderman, the executive director, and from two of the 13,000 volunteers. We also meet a client who candidly shares his story of living with AIDS since the 1990s.
The program features the “Lighten the Burden” AIDS Conference in Tampa, Fla., sponsored by theUnitedMethodistChurch. The Rev. Don Messer, the conference’s leader, has been advocating this cause since the 1980s, and tells how the stigma of AIDS kills as effectively as the disease itself.
Messer says he believes faith communities can take the lead in ending such discrimination. To that end, he works with his foundation, the Center for the Church and Global AIDS, as well as the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, and both have improved the lives of people around the world living with the disease.
The special visits Bishop Ivan Abrahams, the newly elected general secretary of the World Methodist Council. He says that once religious institutions deal with the stigma and discriminations associated with these diseases people will become more open to providing support to better the quality of life for those with HIV and AIDS.
Also featured is Pauline Muchina, senior partnership advisor for UNAIDS, who talks about the positive impact AIDS ministries are making in the U.S. and abroad.
The documentary also interviews the Rev. Jon Fuller, a Jesuit priest and medical doctor. He has been working with HIVand AIDS patients since 1983 and speaks about the early days of the pandemic, offering unique perspectives as a cleric and physician.
June 27 is National HIV Testing Day, an effort coordinated by the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA), which is the oldest AIDS organization in the U.S. The documentary hears from Rodney McCoy, Jr. about the event and the ongoing work of the organization.
Jewish Community Services (JCS), a Baltimore, Md.-based non-profit, offers age-appropriate education and outreach to raise awareness about risky behaviors associated with substance use, abuse and addiction and the spread of HIV/AIDS. The June 17 special speaks with Robin Sweeney, health educator for prevention education at JCS, and attends a JCS presentation at a public health class at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health. Students learn from an AIDS advocate about living with the disease and who is at risk for contracting it.
John P. Blessington is the executive producer and Liz Kineke is the producer of the CBS special. The documentary is produced in cooperation with The National Council of Churches ― including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a consortium of Roman Catholic organizations, The Islamic Society of North America, The Union of Reform Judaism and the New York Board of Rabbis.