As I reflect back on the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980’s it was a time of intense fear in the church I was serving in Baltimore. A number of the church members had contracted the disease and as the word spread people were afraid to even stand near the infected ones.
I remember a board meeting where folks were calling for the end of “passing the peace” during the service, and for intinction during Holy Communion to be replaced with individual cups of grape juice. There was a lot of unfounded fear and ignorance; and sadly there were also many deaths because medications and treatment had not been developed.
Fast forward to 2014, and it is a different story. Dr. Christoph Benn, Director of External Relations for The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, addressed the Council of Bishops at the November meeting in Oklahoma City. He was very hopeful and he commended The United Methodist Church for partnering with The Global Fund in combating these killer diseases.
In terms of HIV/AIDS, he reported that there are 33 percent fewer people in the world with the disease since 2005. In terms of deaths, there are 1.5 million people dying from AIDS complications now, as opposed to 3 million in 2005. There were 400,000 babies born with HIV back then, and now that number has been cut in half. While AIDS is still a major heath concern on this planet, we are making progress in eliminating it due to medical advances in fighting this disease and the large amount of money that has been raised.
Dr. Benn stressed that medication as well as education is the winning combination. The more people learn about the disease the better they can take preventative measures. Education also helps eliminate the stigma that comes with this disease.
While I was touring the East Congo Conference this summer our team visited an AIDS clinic. The social worker there was explaining to parents with a baby born with HIV that they should not reject their child. Some parents were actually hiding their babies under the bed because of the stigma of AIDS.
The UMC has more than 200 HIV/AIDS clinics like this one in over 35 countries working hard to both treat the disease and teach people about prevention.
The UMC is challenging the world to eliminate this disease by the year 2020. December 1st is World AIDS Day and it would be a great opportunity to teach your church about HIV/AIDS and to collect funds for the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund (UMGAF).
The monies collected helps efforts in developing countries, but 25 percent of all donations through the UMC remain in the donor annual conferences for AIDS ministries. For more information and promotional materials check out the UMCOR website at: www.umcor.org/umcor/programs/globalhealth/HIV/AIDS.