How We Lost the War Against AIDS

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In 2017, It's Not Too Late for a Common Voice of Faith about AIDS

Religious institutions and faith communities have had a mixed history in the AIDS epidemic.  On the one hand, religious institutions were some of the earliest to provide care and services to people living with HIV, and they continue to play a vital role today.  Literally, millions of people depend on services provided by religious institutions.  On the other hand, stigma toward people living with HIV and toward marginalized populations often has a religious basis.  Even today, many people involved in fighting AIDS cite religion as a barrier rather than as an asset.  At the same time, AIDS leaders often say that it will be impossible to end AIDS without a strong contribution from faith leaders and communities.

Reflecting the reality of the situation, How We Lost the War Against AIDS, the documentary film described earlier, will have a significant faith component.  As the expert panelists in 2030 reflect back on history of the AIDS epidemic, they will cite the lack of a common voice of faith as one of the critical missed opportunities.  Of course, now, in 2017, that opportunity has not yet been missed.  Two of the Public Service Announcements to be released in the first half of 2018 will have a faith theme:

It's not too late to eliminate the stigma of AIDS in local faith communities

Stigma is a major barrier to ending the AIDS epidemic, often preventing people from accessing the full range of HIV services. Local faith leaders and communities are the best leverage points we have for eliminating stigma.  Unfortunately, experience is spotty.  Many local faith communities have successfully addressed stigma among their members, but many other local faith communities have reinforced stigma, either by making judgmental pronouncements or simply by remaining silent.  It will take a lot of effort to move significantly in the direction of reducing stigma, but it is absolutely critical that we do so.

It's not too late to proclaim the urgency of ending AIDS

Since the beginning of the AIDS crisis, the disease has been surrounded by sometimes conflicting moral messages.  Religious leaders have been on both sides, sometimes making strong judgmental statements about those who have HIV or are at increased risk of infection, sometimes urging compassion toward the sick and marginalized.  As a result, religious leadership has sometimes been weak or lacking in the struggle against AIDS, and even today, many in the AIDS community speak of religion as more of a problem than a solution.  It would give a major boost to the AIDS response if global religious leaders could achieve a strong common voice, emphasizing the need to treat all people with dignity and respect, and proclaiming the urgency of ending AIDS while we still can.

 

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David Barstow