LOUISVILLE (PNS) – Since 1988, December 1 has been designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as World AIDS Day, a time to raise awareness of the pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. The 2016 theme is “Leadership. Commitment. Impact.”
The Presbyterian AIDS Network (PAN), one of the networks of the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association, was established to not only educate churches but point out the injustices connected with fighting AIDS/HIV.
“This pandemic reveals the underbelly of injustice that plagues our global society: poverty and unequal distribution of resources, racism, sexism, xenophobia, child neglect and abuse,” said PAN Co-moderators Ann Jones and George Kerr in a letter to churches. “It is this soft underbelly that calls our members to continue their strong commitment to transform this pandemic.”
According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), prevention has stalled at an average level of 1.9 million new infections each year since 2010. There is no report of a significant drop. In addition, money from international sources has fallen dramatically.
“It is our wish that by 2020, 90 percent of our world’s people will know their status; 90 percent of all those living with HIV will received sustained therapy and 90 percent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will enjoy viral suppression,” the letter states. “Eliminating discrimination, reducing inequalities, especially among women and girls, are paramount.”
The Presbyterian Office of Public Witness has issued an action alert urging Congress to maintain funding to fight the pandemic.
“It is now or never! The House and Senate have until December 9 when the current 10-week Continuing Resolution runs out,” states the alert. “They must be held accountable to adequately fund domestic HIV programs, that impact our most vulnerable citizens.”
The alert urges Congress to restore proposed cuts including those that would eliminate the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program Special Projects of National Significance, the Title X Family Planning Program and the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.
“Today, we pray for all people who are living with HIV. We remember those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses,” the statement reads. “We give thanks for the progress that has been made and ask God to give us strength and courage to stand up together to eliminate AIDS as a public health threat.”
Ecumenical advocates say many people are afraid of the stigma they encounter just by getting tested—a stigma the World Council of Churches (WCC) is hoping to lift with the campaign “Leading by Example: Religious Leaders and HIV Testing.” The campaign began today with a morning prayer service at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, Switzerland.
“To end HIV and AIDS, we have to overcome the stigma of HIV testing,” said Francesca Merico, HIV campaign coordinator for the WCC Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA). “By getting tested for HIV, you aren’t making a statement about morality—you’re taking care of your health.”
As of June 2016, 18.2 million people—less than half of people living with HIV—were receiving treatment, according to UNAIDS.
Last June, the 222nd General Assembly (2016) approved an overture called “On Committing to Play an Active Part in the Global Response to the HIV/AIDS Epidemic.” The overture calls for increased global funding and requests that some of the funds be allocated to the support of faith-based organizations that provide public education on HIV and AIDS. This action builds on the policy “Becoming an HIV and AIDS Competent Church: Prophetic Witness and Compassionate Action” that was adopted by the 219th General Assembly (2010) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
by Rick Jones, Presbyterian News Service (with Gregg Brekke)