World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Update
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28 November 2001

"Tell them to talk freely about this disease" say church representatives at HIV/AIDS consultation in Africa

cf. WCC Press Release, PR-01-44, of 23 November 2001

Churches, ecumenical and church-related organizations from Africa, Europe and North America attending a 25-28 November consultation in Nairobi, Kenya, have committed themselves to a Plan of Action as a common and urgent response to HIV/AIDS in Africa.

At the consultation's closing ceremony, one of the eight presidents of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Dr Agnes Abuom from Kenya, said, "Today, the ecumenical family has made an unprecedented commitment to stop the spread of HIV in Africa, transform the churches and condemn stigma as sin and discrimination contrary to the will of God."

The 120 consultation participants recognized that churches in Africa are being obliged to acknowledge that they have, however unwittingly, contributed to the spread of the virus. "Our difficulty in addressing issues of sex and sexuality have often made it painful for us to engage in any honest and realistic way with issues of sex education and HIV prevention," says the Plan. The consultation called for churches to overcome stigma and discrimination within their own structures so that the rights and dignity of people living with HIV/AIDS can be respected.

The Plan of Action covers issues of support for people living with HIV/AIDS, provision of education and current and accurate information, training for church leaders at all levels for "breaking the silence" on HIV/AIDS, and for counselling, care-giving and learning from people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. It commits churches and related agencies to promote prevention, voluntary testing and counselling. Local congregations will be called on to care for orphans, widows and care-givers often left destitute; to expand their outreach into areas of life where vulnerable people are found, such as in prisons and frontier towns. The Plan supports those who are campaigning for access to anti-retroviral drugs and to strengthen the work of church-related hospitals and clinics providing care for people living with HIV/AIDS.

The Plan also recommends a change of language in church liturgies and consultations to avoid stigmatization and gender insensitivities. A global effort to stimulate theological and ethical reflection and dialogue on HIV/AIDS issues will also be launched.

"We have felt the anguish of Africa," said Rev. Dr Sam Kobia, director of the WCC Issues and Themes cluster, whose work includes HIV/AIDS issues. "Nearly 10,000 people are newly infected each day. We have been inspired by the courage and dignity of people living with HIV/AIDS. We have confessed our silence as the church and our actions that have contributed to the spread of the disease and death," he said.

The Plan of Action includes a major commitment of resources both from within Africa and from churches and agencies in the North.

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.