Christians Spearhead World AIDS Day Efforts
- Janet Chismar Senior Editor, News & Culture
- 2003 1 Dec
Three million people died of HIV/AIDS in 2003, making this the most lethal year so far in the history of the epidemic. And, according to a comprehensive new report issued by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO), an additional five million people became infected with HIV, bringing to 40 million the number of people living with the virus around the world. The report was released Nov. 25 in advance of World AIDS Day, Dec. 1.
Created as a way to raise public awareness, World AIDS Day specifically targets HIV-related stigma and discrimination this year. In many parts of the world, discrimination prevents people who are known to have HIV from securing a job or caring for their families. Discrimination can cause isolation and marginalizes people who have HIV and AIDS. This can prevent people from being offered or seeking the treatment that could save their lives.
Doug Herman is one of many Christians committed to stand in solidarity with those affected by the disease. As an abstinence proponent, Herman educates people about the impact of HIV/AIDS both in the United States and worldwide. As the author of Time for A Pure Revolution (www.PureRevolution.com), he speaks from poignant experience regarding the horrors of HIV: "My infant daughter and young wife died from this tragic infection. Today, I speak passionately and logically about AIDS in public schools. Not only do I want students to avoid HIV infections, I want them to avoid all infections. That's why the message of abstinence is important...not only on December 1st, but for every day of the year."
In the Denver Metro area, Herman is linking with others on World AIDS Day 2003 to provide a call to action to local communities through a group of events, the purpose of which is twofold: (1) to provide a forum for Christians to learn about the impact of HIV/AIDS within the communities of Colorado and worldwide and to combat the stigma associated with the disease; (2) to raise awareness and reduce the discrimination that may prevent infected individuals from seeking treatment, acknowledging their status and/or finding support in the church.
Herman encourages everyone to take action to help prevent teen pregnancies, HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted infections, and unnecessary emotional trauma in their communities.
Meanwhile, World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, is recognizing caregivers this World Aids Day. "Working as an HIV/AIDS caregiver can be like navigating in a dense fog with no end in sight-a constant struggle with hopelessness from watching people die everyday," explains World Relief's international director of HIV/AID programs, Debbie Dortzbach. "Perhaps the most challenging aspect of working with AIDS is burnout; you're in for the long haul in this work and it doesn't get better."
This challenge confronts not only affects professional AIDS workers, but sadly, the very children they care for. "Imagine being a child and watching your parents die of AIDS. They are too weak to provide for you or your siblings. As a result, it becomes your job to provide for your entire family and care for your dying parents at the same time," Dortzbach adds.
According to Dortzbach, who last year testified before the U.S. Senate on HIV/AIDS, having a child as the primary caregiver for a family is a common scenario in developing countries where AIDS is pandemic. "In one Mozambican home World Relief is involved with, the grandmother, daughter and infant all died of AIDS, leaving a 10-year-old boy as the caregiver for himself, an infant and a toddler."
UNAIDS statistics show that AIDS has left 13.4 million children with one or no parents.
In countries of operation, World Relief scouts for homes with child caregivers and mobilizes local church resources to help. This strategy covers entire communities and provinces and helps strengthen safety nets for all families affected by AIDS. World Relief has implemented programs that are gradually breaking down social taboos and myths surrounding the disease.
This year, Christian humanitarian organization World Vision partnered with more than 600 churches to initiate a new tradition for World AIDS Day. These churches devoted five to 10 minutes of their Advent Sunday Service to remember and pray for those affected by HIV/AIDS. To help pastors effectively reach their congregation, World Vision provided churches with a video featuring Christian leaders and musicians including Rick Warren, Max Lucado and Margaret Becker.
The video not only created awareness for the plight of those affected by HIV/AIDS, it also encouraged the audience to act on their convictions by sponsoring an orphan or vulnerable child or supporting World Vision's many other HIV/AIDS prevention and care programs all around the globe.
For example, World Vision's HIV/AIDS Care project in Chennai (formerly Madras) helps address the needs of commercial sex workers, offering counseling, treatment for opportunistic infections and vocational skills training to help sex workers find new means of earning a living. The project also works with widows infected by their husbands. World Vision's efforts particularly focus on women and children not only because they often are unwittingly infected, but also because they often are the most vulnerable members of society.
"Poverty, AIDS, oppression, all seem to prey most easily on children and women," says Jayakumar Christian, who, on Jan. 1, will begin serving as World Vision's national director in India. "According to our Christian mandate, we must address the issues that affect these vulnerable people."