HIV and the Church

By Bill Mugford    Pastor • HIV&AIDS Initiative

The HIV&AIDS community has been using “Getting to Zero” for the past two years to communicate its goals of:

•  Zero new HIV infections;

•  Zero AIDS-related deaths;

•  Zero mother-to-child transmission of HIV; and…

•  Zero stigma and discrimination.

More Quickly…

The “Global Report: UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic 2013” states that some “Getting to Zero” objectives are being realized quickly.  Mother-to-child transmission is markedly diminished, as are AIDS-related deaths.  In both instances, access to education, antiretroviral medication, good patient care and patient adherence are key factors in the decline.

Exceedingly Slowly…

That same “Global Report” also indicates that other “Getting to Zero” objectives remain stubbornly elusive, even to the point that there are indicators of increases in some areas.  In his opening summary, Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Director, warns, However, this report also includes notes of caution, as well as signs of stagnating progress towards other targets and elimination commitments in the 2011 UN Political Declaration. In several countries that have experienced significant declines in new HIV infections, disturbing signs have emerged of increases in sexual risk behaviours among young people.” 

While the report shows that HIV infections have diminished significantly since 2001, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that HIV infections may again be on the rise.  Government officials, HIV&AIDS service organization leaders and AIDS activists to which I have spoken cite the following factors as contributing to increases they are seeing, especially among young people:

•  Lack of historical context concerning the “dark days of the pandemic” (1980’s-early 1990’s) and the continuing seriousness of HIV infection;

•  Lack of knowledge concerning the virus, how one can be infected, and myths associated with HIV&AIDS;

•  Diminishing educational emphasis in school health education programs and little conversation in about HIV (and other sexually-transmitted infections - STIs) at home;

•  A naïve belief that HIV&AIDS “can’t happen to me” because they are only found in certain communities of people domestically and globally, not in all high-risk behaviors in which one participates; and…

•  A sense, incorrectly derived from culture and unnuanced media reports, that “HIV&AIDS are over.”

The “Global Report” notes that only 26 countries (of 193-196 countries, depending on who counts) are on track to reduce sexual transmission of HIV by 50% by 2015 and admits, “The world is not on track to reduce HIV transmission among people who inject drugs by 50%, as recent evidence suggests little change in the HIV burden in this population.” 

As concerns stigma and discrimination, Sidibé laments, “HIV-related stigma and discrimination persist as major obstacles to an effective HIV response in all parts of the world, with national surveys finding that discriminatory treatment of people living with HIV remains common in multiple facets of life, including access to health care.”

A Radical Solution…

Speaking with an HIV&AIDS educator at the US Conference on AIDS this past September, I asked what he felt the solution to the problem of HIV infection might be.  His response, “Simply.  Get knowledgeable; get tested; and stop practicing all forms of high-risk behavior.”

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Download and read the “UNAIDS Global Report”: HERE 

Other recent, relevant articles:  Judith Valente and Giovanni Breu, Reaching Out to Prevent HIV in High-Risk Youth: HERE

Carol Natukunda, “Has the HIV&AIDS Fight Lost Steam? (Uganda)” : HERE

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