Pacific Island Christian Churches Change Stance on HIV/AIDS
Christian churches in the Pacific Islands that previously saw HIV/AIDS "as a punishment from God" are now encouraging their leaders to "offer love and support" to HIV-positive individuals, Agence France-Presse reports. The multi-denominational Pacific Theological College in Fiji has incorporated HIV/AIDS into its curriculum so that graduates of the program will be equipped to perform HIV/AIDS counseling, Jenny Willsher, Anglican priest and lecturer at PTC, said. "Those people in the Pacific who have been infected and their families need the church to reach out and offer love and support in their lives, and we explore the possibilities for doing this in Christian churches," Willsher said, adding, "We hope that by dealing with current social issues, clergy will be better equipped for their roles as Christian educators, care-givers and counselors in their communities. We try and address how churches, particularly in youth groups, can assist in educating young people about their sexuality in an attempt to decrease possibility of infections." An official with the Fijian Methodist Church said that the church has had to acknowledge the presence of HIV/AIDS in the Pacific Islands, adding that health ministry officials have visited most of the church's youth groups and that the response to the visits and discussions about HIV/AIDS has been "encouraging." Jimmie Rogers, senior deputy secretary of the 22-nation Pacific Community, said that the church's response to HIV/AIDS is "critical" because religious leaders are "the first people [Pacific Islanders] go to when we need assistance and guidance." Rogers added, "Churches have the advantage of having the biggest clientele in the Pacific. Speaking from the pulpit, you have hundreds of thousands of people listening." Sepesa Rasili of the region's AIDS Task Force said, "Religion as a whole is still very much deeply rooted in our cultures here in the Pacific and the influence Christianity has over our people cannot be questioned; it is huge and if the churches take this fight forward then we can expect results" (Ragogo, Agence France-Presse, 9/22).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.