Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Report: Church Efforts Against AIDS Could Be the Single Most Effective

Report: Church Efforts against AIDS Could Be the Single Most Effective. May the God of all comfort provide comfort to these believers as they minister to the sick in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

African churches with a ‘‘hidden army of millions’’ of volunteers are one of the world’s single most effective weapon for halting the AIDS pandemic but lack international support and funding, concluded a report released on Sunday.

Tearfund’s report, Faith Untapped, estimates the value of the churches’ care for orphans, the sick and elderly at more than $4.77 billion annually. However, the report pointed out churches barely receive mention in global strategies for tackling AIDS in Africa, where 24 million people are infected in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

“Churches’ long reach, deep into people’s psyche and far down pot-holed tracks into even the most remote villages, means they are uniquely placed to respond to people’s needs,” stated the Tearfund report. “Their reach often extends far beyond that of governments and NGOs.”

The report was released a week ahead of the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto on Aug. 13-18 – the world’s largest HIV/AIDS conference with an estimated 20,000 participants including world-renown scientists, health care providers, politicians, community and business leaders, journalists, government, non-governmental and intergovernmental representatives, and people living with HIV/AIDS.

International recognition of the church’s potential to fight the epidemic is needed, the report emphasized.

“We need fresh thinking on tackling AIDS in Africa. There are 2 million congregations of different faiths. In some churches every single member is involved in caring for orphans and vulnerable children,” said Veena O’Sullivan, Tearfund’s HIV and AIDS advisor, according to a statement released on Sunday. “International donors must urgently seek to understand the nature of faith, recognize churches’ potential to be more effective and ensure funding quickly reaches the grassroots of African society where the money is most needed.”

Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, also urged for recognition of the church’s potential, but at the same time, acknowledged that the church has also been part of the problem in the battle against HIV/AIDS.

“Churches should look again at their own attitudes to gender, sex and HIV and AIDS, and recognize the part they often play in fuelling stigma and discrimination,” the former Archbishop wrote in the report’s foreword. “Too often church leaders fail to talk openly about sex and so miss the opportunity to change attitudes and behavior.”

He added, however, “If we put our own house in order and if we are properly resourced and trained, churches and other faith groups could become one of the single most effective strategies for tackling the HIV and AIDS pandemic.”

Lord Carey’s comments echo earlier comments made by Church leaders such as the Rev. Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., who has noted how Christianity is the largest organization, the widest network, and the biggest volunteer force to tackle the global ill.

According to Tearfund’s report, there are more than 250,000 congregations in the AIDS belt of East and Southern Africa alone – more than enough to support the region’s 12 million orphans. “Kenya alone has 80,000 congregations,” it stated. “If each cared for 20 orphans, all the country’s 1.6 million orphans would be supported.”

Faith Untapped gave further evidence of churches’ impact:

• 97 percent of congregations across six African countries are working with orphans and vulnerable children, according to a UNICEF survey;

• Church volunteers in one Kenyan project are supporting 29,000 people affected by HIV and AIDS;

• Another survey showed that 79 percent of churches and Christian NGOs in Nambia were responding to HIV and AIDS

Church also can play an important role in the prevention of transmission of the HIV virus from mothers to children, concluded the report. For about $13.35 per mother and child, many of the 600,000 new annual infections during pregnancy or early infancy can be prevented, it stated.

Professor Andrew Tomkins, OBE, of London’s Institute of Child Health, explained in the report. “Churches could support pregnant women, educating them about the risks to their unborn child,” he stated. “They could provide treatments through established health networks. And their biblical understanding of the special value of children, born and unborn, makes them highly motivated to defend child rights. Most importantly, churches must address stigma, for which they must take some responsibility.”

In the end, Faith Untapped concludes: “It is now time for recognition and investment to help churches become one of the world’s most effective responses to the global AIDS crisis.”