AIDS 2012: Role of Christian Faith Community Summit Print {sharethis label=}

The Faith Community has “No Exit Strategy” - Role of the Christian Faith Community in HIV/AIDS

As Christo Greyling, Director for HIV and Infectious Disease at World Vision said at a summit on the Role of the Christian Community in Global Health and HIV/AIDS on July 25, “The church has no exit strategy when it comes to the response to HIV/AIDS.” The fact that faith groups were very early responders to the HIV/AIDS crisis and provided care to those infected and affected by the disease before international governments and local ministries of health began to respond was a prominent theme at the summit at Georgetown University during AIDS 2012. The summit was sponsored and organized by Saddleback Church, World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, and Food for the Hungry.

Voices from Capitol Hill

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina spoke to the attendees and addressed the foreign assistance budget. He urged the faith community to help him by speaking out in favor of support of funding for global health. Senator Graham made the point that many church communities support global health and asked Christians to think about the question, “If it’s OK for your church, why isn’t it OK for your government?” He encouraged the attendees to find out who their representatives are and ask for their support of global health. The senator added, “The benefits of being on the right side of history are going to give returns of one hundred fold.”

Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona said that it is because of the trust they earn in their communities and their dedication to serving the “least of these” that faith-based organizations have become glimmers of light in the fight against AIDS.

Addressing her Catholic faith, Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana expressed her appreciation for the role Catholic organizations have played in the response to AIDS and their work with orphaned and vulnerable children. Senator Landrieu said, “Children may make up one-third of the population of the planet, their numbers are as high as 57 percent in some nations; but they are 100 percent of the future everywhere.” She supported the trend against building orphanages to care for children who have lost parents to AIDS and toward community and family care for children.

Faith Communities and the Federal Government in the Response to AIDS

President Obama addressed the summit attendees via video, saying he was proud to work with both political parties to lift the ban on travel by those infected with HIV in 2009 and that although we have made progress in the fight against AIDS, there is more work to be done. The president also said the work of the church is crucial to the fight and was pleased to have faith leaders at a White House event on AIDS this week. To highlight the need for all people to work as one in the response to AIDS, President Obama quoted a letter from the Apostle Paul saying the “Body of Christ is one body with many members.”

When Governor Mike Leavitt of Utah (and Former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services) introduced Governor Mitt Romney, he commented that “Our capacity to deliver diplomacy through health is great.” In his video address, Governor Romney commended the attendees by saying, “Rather than turn away (from AIDS) good people of faith have come forward. You are doing God’s work.” 

Former President Bush also addressed the crowd via video, saying, work in global health is more than a moral imperative, it is important for national security. President Bush recounted a story of a visit he made to a Catholic Relief Services HIV treatment program in Tanzania, where a grandmother told him how much it meant to her that “a Catholic group is helping my Muslim granddaughter.” The former President closed by thanking the faith community for its work and saying, “To whom much is given, much is required.”

Ambassador Eric Goosby, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, discussed the bipartisan nature of PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) and said the issue of AIDS is “above politics.” Ambassador Goosby said he understands the important role the faith community has played in the response to AIDS since the very beginning. He added that the government needs the faith community to reach the people most affected by AIDS, such as the urban poor and people in rural areas. Delivering prevention of mother to child transmission services has been burdened by their ability to reach out to rural communities, according to the ambassador. He also credited former U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Mark Dybul with making sure faith-based organizations have “a seat at the table,” in regards to AIDS programs.

USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah said he is impressed by the scale of the faith-based response and the staying power that the faith community has in hard-to-reach areas. Global Health Initiative Executive Director Lois Quam praised the faith community for approaching global health from an integrated perspective that addresses “the whole person.”

Role in Behavior Change

Panel session moderator Kent Hill, Senior Vice President, International Programs Group, World Vision commented, “No group has the ability to enact behavior change like the faith community.” Elioda Tumwesigye of the Ugandan Parliament echoed that sentiment by saying the faith community has a major role in helping youth delay sexual debut and encouraging people to be faithful in marriage.

Bruce Wilkinson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Medical Mission Board highlighted two groups the faith community must reach: adolescent girls and men. Mr. Wilkinson said we must protect and support adolescent girls, and that men need to exercise the role of leaders and be responsible in their behavior.

Strength of Faith Community in AIDS Response

Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church addressed the attendees, saying, “We may not agree on a lot as Christians, but we can agree to work together to stop AIDS.” Pastor Warren said if you want to bring health care to every village across the globe, you must go through the local church. He said every village has a church and the church can reach people more efficiently and faster than any other organization. Dave Evans, President, Food for the Hungry, added that faith groups provide an “army of volunteers” in the fight against AIDS.

Dr. Kazadi Mwayabo of Catholic Relief Services in Zambia discussed the mission hospital that had no HIV treatment capability in 2000, but now due to a PEPFAR-supported and CRS-implemented program, has 268,000 people in treatment and 700,000 in care, with a rate of viral suppression of at least 92 percent in most patients.

Kay Warren of Saddleback Church closed with a prayer of thanks for the work of all faith groups caring for those affected by AIDS with compassion. Anita Smith of the Children’s AIDS Fund served as the Mistress of Ceremonies.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 26 July 2012 20:16 )