Faith Groups Seek to Address AIDS Prevention and Care

July 12, 2004

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

On July 12, 2004 The Christian Science Monitor reported, "As governments across Asia grapple with a rising tide of HIV/AIDS, attention is turning to the role that faith-based groups can play in combating the virus. Around 100 such groups are attending the 15th International AIDS Conference, which opened [in Bangkok] Sunday amid fresh warnings of an escalating epidemic. While Africa has borne the brunt of global cases, Asia accounted for 1 in 4 new infections in 2003, according to the United Nations, which says that 38 million people are now living with HIV/AIDS...Given the reach of religions in Asia, health officials hope their social networks can be directed toward HIV/AIDS prevention and care. This has already begun in some countries, notably Thailand and Cambodia, where Buddhist monks and nuns are using their authority to soften community hostility toward people living with the disease. But elsewhere in Asia, health workers are meeting resistance to messages about sexuality and infection. In Indonesia, a conservative Muslim group forced TV stations to pull US-funded ads that tackled condom use by men who visit sex workers. Catholic bishops in the Philippines oppose condoms and other such family-planning methods. What dismays some observers is the fear that Asia may be repeating the mistakes of Africa, where churches and mosques initially greeted AIDS with disbelief, hostility, and silence, which has only belatedly given way to compassion. Given the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in parts of Asia, aid agencies say there isn't the luxury of time for such a slow conversion."