AIDS conference attracts faith groups

Published September 1, 2004


Representatives from more than 100 faith-based organizations attended the 15th International AIDS Conference in Bangkok in July.

The Geneva-based Ecumen-ical Advocacy Alliance (EAA) said that organizations from Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist traditions highlighted the ?vital, but often unrecognized role they play in fighting the spread of the virus and caring for those with it.?

They shared ideas on how they can meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of those living with HIV and AIDS and debated the challenges involved in combating stigma and preventing the spread of the virus.

Those from the faith-based organizations were among an estimated 15,000 official delegates, including scientists, world leaders, people living with HIV and AIDS and non-governmental organizations attending the conference.

Many more people passed through the conference’s Global Village described by the alliance as ?a melting pot where everyone from sex workers to saffron-robed monks, massage therapists to meditation leaders, and artists to AIDS activists? shared ideas and experiences.

The ecumenical alliance noted that past conferences tended to overlook the work of faith-based organizations and the key role they play in educating communities, shaping values and providing care. ?Yet in Africa, for example, church members play the leading role in caring for people affected by HIV and AIDS, especially children,? the advocacy group said.

Dr. Prawate Khid-arn, of the Hong Kong-based Christian Conference of Asia , said: ?For the first time the faith community is positioned to stand as equals with the medical and scientific communities.?

The EAA said more than 250 faith-linked delegates addressed issues that can evoke heated debate such as abstinence versus condoms; the church, HIV/AIDS and sexuality; faith communities collaborating with networks of people living with the virus; and theological training on the pandemic.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) said in a statement that it would support the participation of representatives from several grassroots organizations.

?Faith-based communities are accountable to their people for credible information, education and support that will mobilize them as communities that are competent to face the challenge of AIDS with all the resources that are available to them ? including their faith,? said Dr. Manoj Kurian, who is responsible for the health and healing program at the WCC.


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