December 1, 2017
written by Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, Executive Director
As a child I remember watching cartoons that depicted the race between the tortoise and the hare. There is a simple but key value lesson that I think applies to where we are in the HIV and AIDS epidemic. It speaks to the challenge of meeting the global goal of ending the HIV epidemic as a public health threat by 2030. We've got to finish the race to be successful.
As the story goes, the speedy rabbit jumps out to a seemingly insurmountable lead, but then gets side tracked and slacks-off, while the tortoise maintains its steady pace, winning the race before the rabbit realizes what’s happened. Think of the tortoise as the epidemic. It isn’t a perfect metaphor, but in terms of where we are in the epidemic, the HIV epidemic has been lumbering along. It has been slowed or even reduced in some places and among some groups, but it has picked up in other areas and among other groups, particularly among some key populations. HIV has not gone away, people are still developing AIDS and dying from HIV related diseases.
Think of the HIV response as the rabbit. Again, it isn’t a perfect metaphor, but the response to HIV has also been chugging along with some really amazing progress especially in the past few years. For some time we’ve known how to prevent the transmission of HIV behaviorally, but now we know how to stop the transmission of HIV medically. For those who have HIV, we can treat them and get their HIV to undetectable levels. We now know that people living with HIV who are on treatment and whose HIV is undetectable do not transmit the virus, i.e., U=U, Undetectable equals Un-transmittable. We also know that for those who don’t have HIV but are at risk, there is treatment to prevent them from contracting HIV. These medical developments have been game changers in the course of the epidemic.
The global HIV community has called the world to task with a “Fast Track” agenda. We need to continue to be the rabbit in our HIV response. Countries throughout the world, including the U.S., must front load our investments in the HIV response for us to be successful in ending the epidemic. We’ve got to pick up the pace for:
- Scaling up for HIV testing and convince everyone to know their status.
- Linking people living with HIV to care and treatment, help them stay on treatment so that their HIV levels become undetectable, and maintain the treatment to keep them undetectable.
The UNAIDS strategy is to reach the 95-95-95 targets by 2030. That means that 95% of the people living with HIV in the world will know their HIV status, and 95% of the people who know they are HIV positive will be on effective HIV treatment, and that the virus of 95% of those who are on treatment will be undetectable. Reaching those targets will save millions of lives and while there will still be work to do, it will reverse the worst health crisis the world has ever faced.
This will not be easy and it won’t happen if we don’t overcome a key and particularly pernicious obstacle of stigma that continues to slow the response to HIV, threatening to reverse the progress we made. Eliminating stigma is vital to stopping the spread of HIV and ending HIV-related deaths. The consequences of stigma are wide-ranging and may be experienced because of a person's real or perceived HIV status. Some people are shunned by family, peers and the wider community. Stigma can lead to poor treatment when receiving services such as healthcare or education, or create problems in acquiring or keeping employment. Stigma undergirds negative profiling and stereotyping that fosters discrimination, increases fear and insecurity, and perpetuates silence about HIV. At its worst, stigma creates unsafe environments leading to violence and sometimes death. It violates human dignity, erodes respect for human rights, and may result in psychological damage.
One of the most significant ways faith communities can respond to the HIV epidemic is by addressing stigma. The United Church of Christ HIV & AIDS Network is working to do just that by leading a multi-faith effort called the Framework for Dialogue. The Framework for Dialogue brings together religious leaders, people living with HIV and a variety of experts in HIV for a dialogue designed to lead to joint actions to reduce and eliminate HIV-related stigma. The process creates safe space for engaging a dialogue about evidence on HIV-related stigma and facilitates the development of innovative initiatives that participants commit to work on together. Plans are underway to implement dialogues in the Detroit metro area, Louisiana and New Jersey.
In the story of the tortoise and the hare, the tortoise never should have won the race, but did because the hare became complacent. We simply can’t let that happen with the HIV epidemic. We’ve got to finish the race strong and to do so, we’ve got to “Fast Track” our efforts now. We must face the reality that AIDS isn’t over and know that if we work together, it could be.
Local Church Endorsements
- United Church of Christ HIV & AIDS Network – Cleveland, OH
- Bethel United Church of Christ – Kansas City, MO,
- First Congregational Church of Palo Alto UCC – Palo Alto, CA
- St. Paul United Church of Christ of Corpus Christi – Corpis, Christi, Texas
- First Central Congregational Church – Omaha, NE
- Catherine's Retreat House – Sheep Ranch, CA
- Robbinsdale United Church of Christ – Minneapolis, MN
- UCC Petaluma - Petaluma, CA
- Pilgrim United Church of Christ – Carlsbad, CA
- MCC United Church of Christ – Los Angeles, CA
- Encanto Community Church UCC – Phoenix, CA
- God Can Ministries UCC – University Park, IL
- Holy Trinity Community Church United Church of Christ – Memphis, TN
Much progress has been made since we first learned about HIV more than 35 years ago and we have made it through some very difficult times. We remember with thanksgiving those we have lost to this disease and for those who grieve, we pray God’s peace and comfort. Although medical advances have made it possible to prevent HIV from attacking the immune system, saving millions of lives, we recognize that we have not sufficiently scaled-up our responses to meet the need for prevention, treatment, care and support for all those living with and affected by HIV.
There has never been a more important time to be engaged in HIV response and as people of faith and faith communities we recognize that we have a great opportunity to provide critical leadership to end the HIV & AIDS epidemic. The United Church of Christ HIV & AIDS Network calls local churches, clergy and other faith leaders are join this call to action and declare your commitment to fast-track your responses to help end the HIV epidemic as a public health threat by 2030.
Help us reach our goal - 1,000 Local Church endorsements by World AIDS Day 2018 (December 1)
CALL TO ACTION
Issued - December 1, 2016
We commit to:
- Step-up new and renewed efforts, acting on opportunities to integrate HIV response throughout our ministries.
- Develop and deepen our understandings of stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with and affected by HIV in our community and will work collaboratively on joint actions aimed to reduce and eliminate it.
- Provide pastoral care, accompaniment and support to persons in our church and community living with or affected by HIV;
- Provide information and opportunities for everyone in our church and community to learn about HIV, the modes of transmission, how to prevent infection and what the epidemic looks like in our community, nation and world;
- Offer opportunities for everyone in our church and community to know their HIV status through voluntary counseling and testing;
- Advocate for public health policies that make quality health care available, affordable and accessible to every person, provide adequate funding to ramp-up and strengthen programs for prevention, testing, treatment, care and support, and help to reduce and eliminate stigma and discrimination, including the decriminalization of HIV.
UCC Health and Human Service (HHS) Sunday is January, 27, 2019.
(Or whichever Sunday works most appropriately for your congregation.)
In partnership with the Council for Health and Human Services (CHHSM), we are pleased to provide worship resources to use for your congregation’s celebration of Health and Human Service Sunday.The resources for Health and Human Service Sunday 2019 are in development, but you can check out the 2018 resources HERE.
- Resources from previous years are available HERE.
Council for Health and Human Service Ministries
(CHHSM) is a non-profit association of more than 350 UCC-related ministries and programs engaged in primary and acute health care; services to persons with disabilities; children, youth and families; and the aging (continuing care and retirement housing). CHHSM offers a variety of services and products to enhance the ministries of its members and their relationships within the UCC.
Disabilities and Mental Health Justice
Our faith teaches us that all people are created in the image of God. We are called to embody a philosophy of inclusion and interdependence and work together to remove or overcome barriers to welcoming and including all people in the work and witness of the United Church of Christ and in the wider world.
UCC Disabilities Ministries
UCC Disabilities Ministries is an affiliated organization of the UCC which supports people with all kinds of disabilities, for full participation and inclusion in Christ's Church. UCCDM calls upon the whole church to recognize and receive the gifts persons with disabilities and provides resources for persons with disabilities, their families, and local congregations.
UCC Faith Community Nurse Network
The UCC Faith Community Nurse Network, formerly the Parish Nurse Network, aims to promote health ministry and parish nursing in congregations and communities, as the visible presence and voice of parish nurses in the United Church of Christ.
UCC HIV and AIDS Network (aka UCAN)
UCAN works with the various settings of the church and society on HIV education and prevention, treatment and care, engages in various forms of advocacy, including public policy, works cooperatively with the United Church of Christ HIV and AIDS Network (UCAN), the area offices of Global Ministries, and with ecumenically and interfaith organizations on HIV and AIDS concerns.
The Open and Affirming (ONA) movement in the UCC seeks to grow the love, welcome and justice in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity and express. It is the largest, fasting growing inclusive church movement in the world. Resources are available through UCC Resources and from the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition, an affiliated organization in the UCC focused on providing leadership and resources for the ONA process.
UCC Mental Health Network
The United Church of Christ Mental Health Network is an affiliated organization of the UCC that works to reduce stigma and promote the inclusion of people with mental illnesses/brain disorders and their families in the life, leadership and work of congregations. They provide resources and assistance to for congregations with to join the mission of being WISE congregations - Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged in the Mental Health of the community and the wider world.
Sexuality Education Ministries
Our Sexuality Education Ministries promote sexual health through the age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education curriculum, Our Whole Lives and Sexuality and Our Faith. This ministry is grounded in the values of self worth, responsibility, justice, love and inclusivity. We encourage churches to offer this life-saving and life-affirming education to everyone – children, youth and adults.