Houses of Worship Vital for Ending HIV Epidemic: Church Network Leader

(Photo Credit: Gregg Brekke/Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance)The Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, Executive Director of the United Church of Christ HIV & AIDS Network is seen in Washington D.C. at an event linked to the 2012 International Aids Conference on July 25, 2012.

Churches have a vital role to play in what is now a "clear opportunity" to help end the global AIDS epidemic, a church HIV network leader said, pointing out five steps churches can take to make help make that happen.

"Houses of worship have a vital role," said The Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, Executive Director of the United Church of Christ HIV & AIDS Network.

State of AIDS Today

The Rev. Schuenemeyer, Executive Director of the United Church of Christ HIV & AIDS Network briefly described the state of the epidemic and progress in combating the disease.

He noted 34 million people are living with HIV in he world today and nearly 70 percent of them live in sub-Saharan Africa. There are 1.2 million PLWH in he United States, and there are about 51,000 new infections per year, said.

More than half of those HIV infections occur in people of color, he said, adding that significant infection rates occur among African American women and young black men who have sex with men.


He noted there has been "significant progress in lowering infections rates in many countries ad we are on track to meet most of the goals for 2015 that were set at the 2011 United Nations High Level Meeting on HIV."

"There is a plan and it is working, but it must be sustained in the U.S. and around the world if we are go achieve the goal of "Getting to Zero:" zero new infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero stigma and discrimination," he said.

Five Steps

He pointed out "five things every church can do that will help their community and the world get to zero."

1. Pray
2. Create awareness
3. Increase HIV competencies
4. Integrate HIV response
5. Advocate

Below are details from Rev. Schuenemeyer about each step:

1. Pray
• For an AIDS-free generation
• That everyone has access to the treatment, care and support they need
• For an end to stigma and discrimination

2. Create awareness

• About HIV and AIDS, and how it is transmitted
• About HIV in your community
• So that everyone knows their HIV status

3. Increase HIV competencies

• Create comprehensive age-span educational programs, including curricula: such as Affirming Persons, Saving Lives and Our Whole Lives
• Offer Pastoral and spiritual outreach
• Provide information on how to access local services
• Seek out opportunities to participate in the National AIDS Strategy

4. Integrate HIV response into

• All health ministries
• Worship and communication, sermons, prayers, newsletters, and social media
• Programs and activities

5. Advocate

• Amplify the voices of faith in local media
• For strategic funding for HIV, locally and globally, where it is needed most
• For comprehensive HIV prevention services
• For the elimination of stigma and discrimination

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