What is AIDS?
Education and prevention
Stigma and discrimination
Condoms and needle exchange
Empowerment of women
HIV testing and counseling
HIV/AIDS staff table
What can we do?
Global AIDS Ministry Fund
HIV/AIDS is the most serious health crisis the world has ever faced. HIV does not discriminate. Whether we realize it or not, all of us are affected: rich and poor, especially the poor; men and women, especially the women; old and young, especially the young; and people of every race, especially people of color.
At the end of 2003, the United Nations estimated that more than 40 million people are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Nearly three-fourths of them live in sub-Saharan Africa, one million in the U.S. The current patterns of HIV infection suggest that the pandemic is in its infancy. While the evidence may suggest there is reason for despair, there is also good reason for hope. Everything we need to know about how to prevent HIV infection is known. What is lacking is the dramatic shift in priorities needed to address this disease.
Stephen Lewis, U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, has called apathy in the face of HIV/AIDS "mass-murder by complacency." Our hope is in our ability to mobilize the full potential of our resources and compassion to address the many facets of HIV/AIDS affecting our families, communities and world. Undergirding all of our work is the Gospel truth that it is God's will to bring healing and wholeness to a world with HIV/AIDS.
The HIV/AIDS and other global health ministries of the Office for Health and Wholeness Advocacy work in partnership with individuals, congregations, Associations, Conferences and other settings of the church, including each of the area offices of Global Ministries. We are also involved with other churches and other faiths.
AIDS is an "autoimmune deficiency syndrome" caused by HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), which is spread through blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk. The most common mode of infection is through unprotected sexual intercourse with an HIV-positive partner. Other routes include use of infected needles and syringes (or other skin-piercing equipment); mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding; transfusions of HIV-infected blood or blood products; and transplants of infected tissue or organs.
The first step in HIV/AIDS advocacy is education. "Affirming Persons, Saving Lives" is a comprehensive HIV/AIDS curriculum developed by the United Church of Christ. It contains age appropriate materials, preschool—adult. It is available for the cost of shipping/handling through UCC Resources (800-537-3394). There is also a wealth of quality HIV/AIDS information and most of it is easily accessible via the internet. Link to these sites and you will not only access demographic information about the HIV pandemic, but you will also find basic information on how to prevent becoming infected and learn about strategies for addressing the many needs this disease presents.
Stigma and discrimination create and environment of fear and prejudice and are the primary barriers to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS. It is important to overcome prejudice by addressing the issues which lead to infection and interfere with effective treatment. An important step in this direction is to provide comprehensive sex education, which is abstinence-based for children and youth, and encourages fidelity in all covenanted relationships.
When and with whom a person becomes sexually active is a matter of personal choice. Because of the reality of sexual behavior among adolescents and adults, it is critically important to provide medically accurate information about condoms. When used properly, condoms are shown to significantly reduce the risks of infection among sexually active persons, thus saving lives. And, there is no credible research to indicate that making condoms easily accessible encourages sexual behavior. Similarly, there is no credible evidence that shows that easily accessible injection drug needles encourage illicit injection drug use. However, HIV infection rates decrease where needle exchange programs exist.
Not to be overlooked in any effective HIV-prevention strategy is the empowerment of women. In many places throughout the world there are cultural traditions that place women in jeopardy—especially young women and girls. Prevailing views and practices concerning male masculinity make women more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and violence, placing them at extreme risk for HIV and other STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). Significant efforts must be made to address gender inequality and empower women.
HIV testing and counseling are also important for effective education and prevention. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimate that as many as two-thirds of those who live with HIV in the U.S. do not know they are HIV-positive. While there is no cure for HIV, drug treatment therapies are available that may slow the progress of the disease and extend both the quality and length of life: The earlier the virus is detected, the more effective the treatment. Persons who know and understand their HIV status are more likely to behave in ways that reduce the risk of becoming infected or infecting others. The anonymous data collected from test results contribute to the growing body of information about how and where HIV is spreading. By providing voluntary counseling and testing programs, local churches can raise community awareness and help their loved ones and others living with HIV.
There is an extreme need for medical services and supplies throughout the world, and especially in underdeveloped areas. Among the supplies needed are latex gloves, sterile needles and syringes, HIV testing kits and lab supplies needed to safeguard blood supplies.
Anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs are in very short supply. While costs have been reduced and some patent issues resolved, the need completely overwhelms the demand. As mentioned above, these drugs can increase both the quality and length of life, which is of extreme importance in sub-Saharan Africa where more than 14 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. Another important drug in the fight against HIV is Nevirapine, which is proven to reduce the risk of mother-to-child infection during breastfeeding.
Providing adequate nutrition is another important piece in both reducing infection and increasing length and quality of life. However, the World Food Program has identified HIV/AIDS as a major contributing factor to famine conditions in southern Africa. While drought, wars and other problems contribute to famine, in many villages devastated by AIDS there simply are not enough women and men to work the fields to produce food.
Please note: Donations through the Global AIDS Ministry Fund of One Great Hour of Sharing or organizations such as Church World Service are often the most effective and efficient ways to get resources where they are needed most. Before an individual, church or group decides to send supplies, they are strongly encouraged to consult with the appropriate area office of Global Ministries, who will be able to provide assistance in developing a plan to get the resources where they are intended to go.
HIV/AIDS strikes at the heart of community life. By affecting people in the most productive years of life, it undermines economic viability of families and nations and creates the potential for regional instability. In most developing nations, social security is the extended family. HIV/AIDS disrupts this system by the deaths of so many parents. Children are left to be taken care of by the elderly and when they are gone, children are often left to fend for themselves. HIV/AIDS has significantly reduced the numbers of teachers, which debilitates the education system and threatens the future of many nations. The need is great and the challenge is as difficult as anything the world has ever faced.
In the national setting of the UCC, the Office for Health and Wholeness Advocacy of Wider Church Ministries convenes an inter-ministry HIV/AIDS staff table at which each of the four covenanted ministries is represented. With the participation of the COREM (Council of Racial/Ethnic Ministries) related staff of the Office of General Ministries and several Justice and Witness Ministries staff we are developing some key strategies. A priority of the HIV/AIDS Table is addressing the HIV/AIDS issues facing people of color.
The more we communicate with each other about what we are doing, the better we are able to understand both how we can work together and where the gaps in services may be. The Health and Wholeness Advocacy office is a clearinghouse for resources and networking. You are encouraged to communicate with them about any initiatives you are planning and evaluations of your experience. The Local Church Relations office of Global Ministries and our area offices can be very helpful by providing information and guidance on working internationally.
- Communicate your concern that HIV/AIDS should be addressed in your church and community, especially with your elected officials.
- Join the UCC Just Peace Advocacy Network (JPAN) of Justice and Witness Ministries.
- Create or add an HIV/AIDS prevention and education program to your parish nursing program, community health fair or other health-education program.
- Take initiatives to alleviate poverty.
- Advocate comprehensive sex education in public schools.
- Use the "Our Whole Lives" or "Affirming Persons-Saving Lives" curriculum in your congregation. "Our Whole Lives" is a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum developed by the UCC.
- Advocate for easy access to condoms with education materials on their proper use.
- Advocate for a needle exchange program in your community.
- Offer regular HIV testing and counseling in your community.
UCC Global Ministries
Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance
Daily HIV/AIDS reports
Balm in Gilead
Council of Religious AIDS Networks
National Minority AIDS Council
Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS
Centers for Disease Control
The Names Project Foundation
Affirming Persons, Saving Lives
A comprehensive HIV/AIDS curriculum for preschool through adult ages, is available for the cost of shipping (about $12) from United Church Resources at 1-800-537-3394.
DVD Resource: "Coming to Say Goodbye, Stories of AIDS in Africa"
Order the DVD from UCC Resources (1-800-537-3394), get the film and much, much more. "Coming to Say Goodbye, Stories of AIDS in Africa" (Maryknoll Productions) is a documentary about courageous people living with and responding to HIV/AIDS in Kenya and Tanzania. Included in the DVD resource is the film, study helps, the music video "Give Me Hope" as performed by the Sinikithemba HIV Positive Choir of South Africa, and links to a variety of resource-rich web sites. The DVD is produced by AFRUS-AIDS which is a broad-based coalition of global women's networks and faith-based organizations working in partnership with African grassroots women's organizations in the struggle to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
The film may also be ordered in VHS format from Maryknoll (film only).
A special disaster fund appeal for HIV/AIDS has been issued from the UCC office of the Global Sharing of Resources (One Great Hour of Sharing) and the Disciples Overseas Ministry (Week of Compassion). This fund is designed to support the HIV/AIDS work of our global mission partners. The area desks of Global Ministries have information on their websites on the significant HIV/AIDS work of our partners and sponsored agencies.