Christians challenged to pray and care for HIV affected

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York are to speak out on World Aids Day next Monday to highlight the vital role of the church in supporting those affected by HIV.

The global theme for this year’s World Aids Day is ‘leadership’ and the Archbishops' comments come as charity Christian Aid urges faith leaders across the globe to use their position to save lives by furthering prevention and treatment without prejudice.

"Lives are at stake and sadly this affects families, communities and nations. We expect faith leaders – particularly from the churches - to provide the inspiration and opportunities for tackling the problem," said Christian Aid director, Daleep Mukarji.

Dr Rowan Williams speaks of "the need both for prayer and for treatment".

"Hold those two together and do not let them be pulled apart, to make sure people see that their responsibilities before God, for their lives, include prayer and practical care," he said.

The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu says, "HIV/Aids prevention, treatment and care is one of the greatest healthcare challenges of our time. We give thanks on the 20th anniversary of World Aids Day for all the HIV awareness raising work which is undertaken by many organisations including Christian Aid, UNICEF and WHO.

"It is my prayer that globally we move from attitudes of stigmatising people living with HIV/Aids to supporting them in our congregations and communities."

Thirty-three million people are living with HIV. The majority - 96 per cent - are in developing countries.

Christian Aid stressed that HIV is a virus rather than a moral issue and continues to advocate the SAVE approach of Safer practices, Available medications, Voluntary counselling and testing, and Empowerment of individuals, with men and women able to make decisions about their relationships.

In South Africa, 5.7 million people are living with the virus – the largest number in the world. The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Rev Thabo Cecil Makgoba, is renowned for speaking out on the issue.

He said, "I have no doubt that Jesus would take the lead in caring for those who are affected and infected by Aids - especially where our societies stigmatise and ostracise them, rather like the lepers of his day."

On December 1, campaigners worldwide will renew calls for governments and policy-makers to honour their commitments to meet the UN target of universal access to HIV treatment, care and prevention services by 2010.

Most people living with HIV still do not have access to the medicines which would keep them healthy, whilst those seeking testing and treatment often face rejection by employers, neighbours, family and friends.

Local clergy can play a key role in encouraging testing. Maxwell Kapachawo was the first pastor in Zimbabwe to openly acknowledge he was living with HIV. He now works with parishioners and other clergy to help them confront the epidemic.

"My disclosure really helped my congregation. It has transformed my ministry. By the last Sunday of the month when I told people, three quarters of the congregation had gone to be tested. They saw me as a role model," he says.