From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Churches in Europe Urged to be More Actively Engaged in Fight

From "Frank Imhoff" <>
Date Mon, 26 Apr 2004 09:25:11 -0500

Churches in Europe Urged to be More Actively Engaged in Fight against
Increased HIV Infections  in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

ODESSA, Ukraine/GENEVA, 23 April 2004 (LWI) - The increasing spread of
the HIV/AIDS pandemic in eastern Europe and central Asia compels
churches to be more actively involved in the struggle against the
stigmatization and discrimination of people living with HIV and AIDS.
The regional director of the AIDS Foundation East-West (AFEW), Anja
Teltschik made these remarks during the April 20-25 Lutheran World
Federation (LWF) regional consultation on HIV/AIDS in Odessa, Ukraine. 

The churches are seen as especially important in providing information,
awareness raising, advocacy, and in taking leadership, Teltschik said.
Her work on behalf of AFEW focuses on the Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and
the Baltic states. AFEW is an international non-governmental,
humanitarian and public health organization, active in initiatives that
help reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS in the Newly Independent States (NIS)
and former Soviet Union. 

The conference, jointly organized by the LWF and German Evangelical
Lutheran Church in the Ukraine (DELKU), is being attended by about 40
representatives of European LWF member churches, women and youth
leaders, and staff members of regional and international NGOs.

Teltschik argued for collaboration between churches, regional and
international NGOs and municipal institutions and government offices in
planning and carrying out joint projects, saying this would be a
significant step in combating the spread of the HIV virus. None of these
bodies individually would be able to work effectively against the
HIV/AIDS pandemic, she said. She noted that the churches particularly
offer a spiritual dimension, provide psychological and social welfare
support, and mobilize communities. 

But she was critical of the current tendency to see the HIV/AIDS
pandemic mainly as a North-South problem, and not equally as an
East-West problem. She also expressed concern that government
institutions do not consider national and international NGOs to be equal
partners, and decried the situation in eastern Europe where national
NGOs have limited resources, while international NGOs are active to a
limited extent. 

Dr Arkadiusz Majszyk, coordinator of the UN AIDS program (UNAIDS) for
Moldova, the Ukraine and Belarus, spoke of the dramatic rise in HIV
infections in eastern Europe and central Asia. Last year the region's
HIV infections rose from about 1.2 to 1.8 million, making it the
greatest percentage increase worldwide in the past three years. There
are 300,000 known HIV-infected persons living in the Russian Federation
alone, but the actual number is estimated to be two or three times
higher, Majszyk said. Estonia, Latvia and the Ukraine are believed to
have alarming increases in HIV rates.

Intravenous drug users are said to be the most seriously affected
group, yet such persons also pass on the virus to their sexual partners
in significant numbers. Other groups at risk include homosexuals and
female sex workers. However it is clear that the HIV/AIDS pandemic is
not limited to particular groups in society, Majszyk emphasized.

In the Ukraine and Russia, 80 percent of people living with HIV and
AIDS are between 15 and 29 years old. UNAIDS surveys show that in many
countries, knowledge about HIV/AIDS is very limited, Majszyk continued.
He said there women aged 15 to 24 years in Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan who
had never heard of HIV/AIDS, and noted that around a third of Russian
students have been involved in intravenous drug usage.

An effective fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic must involve young
people and make use of all available structures and channels for
awareness raising, according to Majszyk. He called for an end to the
stigmatization and exclusion of intravenous drug users and sex workers,
if the HIV/AIDS battle is to be won. 

For Majszyk, efforts to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic should prioritize
care and support, as well as advocacy and prevention. Churches and other
faith communities have a crucial role to play in promoting these
concerns as they have well-functioning networks and significant
influence in society, he said. 

The meeting in Odessa is the last of four regional conferences
organized under the 2002 LWF global campaign against HIV/AIDS and its
related action plan, "Compassion, Conversion, Care: Responding as
Churches to the HIV/AIDS Pandemic." The first regional consultation was
held in Africa in 2002, followed by Latin American and the Caribbean
region in March 2003, while Asia's took place in December 2003. (721

[The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran
tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund (Sweden), the LWF now has 136 member
churches in 76 countries representing 62.3 million of the almost 66
million Lutherans worldwide. The LWF acts on behalf of its member
churches in areas of common interest such as ecumenical and inter-faith
relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human rights,
communication, and the various aspects of mission and development work.
Its secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland.)

[Lutheran World Information (LWI) is the LWF's information service.
Unless specifically noted, material presented does not represent
positions or opinions of the LWF or of its various units. Where the
dateline of an article contains the notation (LWI), the material may be
freely reproduced with acknowledgment.]
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