World AIDS Day: Let's seize the moment
Written by the Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer
November 27, 2012

There has never been a more poignant moment in the more than 30 years of the HIV epidemic.  The opportunity to end the epidemic in our lifetime is clearly before us, but we must recognize this opportunity and invest our time, energy and resources wisely in this moment or we will miss it. With millions of lives at stake, the quality of our response has incredible consequences and enormous moral significance.

There are an estimated 34 million people living with HIV (PLWH) in the world today and nearly 70 percent of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.  There are 1.2 million PLWH in the United States, where there are approximately 51,000 new infections each year.  More than half of all new infections in the U.S. occur among people of color, with significant infection rates occurring among African American women and young black men who have sex with men. One in 5 of people living with HIV in the U.S. is not aware of their HIV status.

At the same time, we know how HIV is transmitted and how to prevent transmission.  We have learned that treatment is not only important to addressing HIV disease, extending the length and quality of life, but also that anti-retroviral treatment can be highly effective at preventing transmission.  Throughout the world, health systems have been strengthened and methods of providing care have been improved.  There has been significant progress in lowering infections rates in many countries and we are on track to meet most of the goals for 2015 that were set at the 2011 United Nations High Level Meeting on HIV.  There is a plan and it is working, but it must be sustained in the U.S. and around the world if we are to achieve the goal of "Getting to Zero:" zero new infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero stigma and discrimination.

Houses of worship have a vital role.  Here are five things every church can do that will help their community and the world get to zero:

1.    Pray
2.    Create awareness
3.    Increase HIV competencies
4.    Integrate HIV response
5.    Advocate

1.    Pray
•    For an AIDS-free generation
•    That everyone has access to the treatment, care and support they need
•    For an end to stigma and discrimination

2.    Create awareness
•    About HIV and AIDS, and how it is transmitted
•    About HIV in your community
•    So that everyone knows their HIV status

3.    Increase HIV competencies
•    Create comprehensive age-span educational programs, including curricula: such as Affirming Persons, Saving Lives and Our Whole Lives
•    Offer Pastoral and spiritual outreach
•    Provide information on how to access local services
•    Seek out opportunities to participate in the National AIDS Strategy

4.    Integrate HIV response into
•    All health ministries
•    Worship and communication, sermons, prayers, newsletters, and social media
•    Programs and activities

5.    Advocate
•    Amplify the voices of faith in local media
•    For strategic funding for HIV, locally and globally, where it is needed most
•    For comprehensive HIV prevention services
•    For the elimination of stigma and discrimination

The Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer is the Executive Director of the United Church of Christ HIV & AIDS Network

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