Churches could do much more than they have done in the fight against AIDS, a United Nations AIDS official has charged. Church-run hospitals, clinics and homes have been at the forefront of caring for people with HIV/AIDS and the orphans left behind by the disease – in some countries providing 50 per cent of all health care, said Calle Almedal, the UN AIDS official in charge of liaison with international organizations in Geneva. But he believes many churches and their leaders have neglected – or even hindered – the fight against the epidemic. “Many are not addressing it because they think AIDS is far away and doesn’t affect them or because they are too embarrassed to talk about a disease associated with sexuality,” Mr. Almedal said. His remarks coincided with a new report showing that about 42 million people around the world now live with HIV. Five million were newly infected in the past year, and almost a million were children.
Churches have not been immune to the epidemic: many of their own members and leaders are living with HIV. Some church leaders are even contributing to the social stigma of the disease, Mr. Almedal said, refusing communion to people living with HIV or condemning them from the pulpit, and refusing to bury those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses. The result is that prevention measures have been stymied, Mr. Almedal said. The scope of the epidemic puts the future of the church in danger, he said.