It’s been a few decades now since the AIDS epidemic got the full attention of the world. Though many advances have been made in medical science to improve treatment for people with HIV/AIDS it is still a huge health crisis globally and in the United States.
According to www.aids2016.org about 5,600 people contract HIV every day. That is more than 230 people every hour. Over one million people die every year from complications that stem from this immune deficiency; and since 1981 it is estimated that 25 million people have died from it.
This is a social justice issue because many who continue to contract this virus lack the educational resources to help them with prevention and the means to get treatment.
When World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, comes around each year it gives us a moment to think about this disease, including those who have died from it and those who are suffering from it. This reminder also calls us to try to do something more about a terrible local and global affliction that still threatens and takes too many precious lives.
One of the chief causes of HIV/AIDS is intravenous drug use. The National Institute of Drug Abuse states that the two are “inextricably linked,” as HIV is transmitted by contact with blood or body fluids. This can occur through the sharing of drug-use equipment like needles.
In this country, there is a huge heroin epidemic in our communities right now. According to the New York Times (Oct. 30, 2015) there has been a 39 percent rise in heroin-related deaths, and huge numbers of people are being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS as a result. This is happening in every neighborhood, in every city; and yet, little is being said or done about this epidemic in our churches.
It is likely that every church has people in its pews who have addiction issues personally or in their families. Yet, we typically keep silent about it. What can we do?
On and certainly after World AIDS Day 2016 we can discuss and pray for people who have the disease and those living without loved ones who succumbed to the effects of AIDS. We can become informed and prayerful for medical researchers, clinicians and funders who are working hard to develop treatments, and for all those involved in the work of prevention and treatment.
We can have presentations and conversations about HIV/AIDS in our churches, and share with people that two of the important ways to stop the spread of HIV is to try to prevent and reduce addiction to drugs and the sharing of needles by those who use drugs. Abstinence needs to be taught to people, even though this can be a difficult conversation.
Addiction is costly in lives as well as dollars. Families, communities and our prisons are extensively affected. Encourage your congregation to welcome Narcotic Anonymous meetings in your church buildings. And donate to the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund (Advance Project #982345). This fund supports ministries that promote awareness and prevention and that create resources to help local churches with education and improving the lives of people living with AIDS.
World AIDS Day comes yearly around the beginning of the Christian season of Advent. This is a time of anticipating the coming of Christ. But that time of preparation should inspire us to examine our lives and our Christian responsibility to love and help our neighbors. Like Good Samaritans, we should help most especially those whom others might ignore or neglect.
This year look for ways to be personally supportive and involved—locally, nationally or globally—in education, prevention and treatment efforts that address our stubborn HIV/AIDS crisis and the growing drug addiction crisis that fuels it. As Christ’s beloved, called disciples, help our world prepare the way of the Lord by sharing the Savior’s love in tangible, healthy, transformative ways.
"A Look at HIV and AIDS"
Note: Watch "A Look at HIV and AIDS," a series of videos created by UM Global Ministries in observance of World AIDS Day. It offers a variety of perspectives on AIDS-related stigma. The series invites communities of faith to address the bias attached to those living with HIV and to become more educated and informed.