World AIDS Day is a good time to discuss global efforts


Special to the Advocate

Sharon Thomas, vivacious and funny, appears to be the picture of health. You might not think of her contagious smile when you put a face on the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  

But there she is, living with AIDS for 18 years.

“We’re not all 60-pound skeletal people anymore – not in the United States, anyway,” she said.

Thomas is one of 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS across the United States. Twenty-seven percent of them are older than 50. People in the United States are living longer with AIDS due to the antiretroviral medications available, known as cocktails. 

The 40 million across the globe living with the HIV/AIDS virus, the majority in sub-Saharan Africa, are not as likely to have access to the pharmaceutical cocktails to extend their lives.  

In 2004, the General Conference created the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund with the goal of raising $8 million, or $1 per United Methodist in the U.S., by 2008. The fund provides United Methodists a way to address the AIDS pandemic around the globe. Gifts to Advance Special #982345 will support new and existing AIDS ministries world-wide. World AIDS Day is Dec. 1. 

Thomas, the vice chair of the board of directors of the West Ohio AIDS Ministries Committee, was one of more than 150 United Methodists from all over the United States who attended the Lighten the Burden global AIDS conference in Washington, D.C., in September. 

Lighten the Burden, the first conference of its kind in more than 20 years, was sponsored by the Global AIDS Fund, Board of Global Ministries and Board of Church and Society. 

Dr. Cherian Thomas of the Global Ministries’ health and welfare unit told the conference attendees that the HIV/AIDS disease can be compared to “a forest fire that is blazing.” 

“Our immediate response is to put the fire out, but sometimes we cannot douse the fire,” he said. 

Thomas detailed four interventions – prevention, treatment, care and support – to battle the flames of what the United Nations has called a “global emergency.” 

“If you really want to fight a forest fire, you have to have forest fighters trained, an organizational structure in place and a system that prevents the fire,” said Thomas. He lifted up the revitalized United Methodist hospitals in Asia and Africa as such a system.

In particular, Thomas praised the United Methodist Church’s Chicuque Hospital in Mozambique, under the leadership of Bishop João Machado.  

In Mozambique, 1.7 million people are living with HIV/AIDS and 123,000 have lost their lives to the disease, leaving more than 300,000 children as orphans. 

“The poor, they die twice,” said Bishop Machado. “They die because of the HIV/AIDS disease. They die because when you give them the medicines, they don’t have the food to balance the diet.” 

Most people in Mozambique cannot afford to spend $2 per day for food or medicine, the bishop said, because 60 percent of the population lives below that country’s poverty line. As a result, many people turn to prostitution, which only makes more people vulnerable to the disease. 

“We need United Methodists to pray, speak out in their local churches and wherever their ministries take them, and do something in support of HIV/AIDS ministries,” said the Rev. Don Messer, a retired theological school president and a member of the Global AIDS Fund’s board of directors.

What you can do

  • Educate your congregation, including the youth group, about the disease and its global impact.
  • Pray each day for HIV/AIDS victims and their caregivers.
  • Recognize World AIDS Day on Dec. 1. Resources are available online from the General Board of Global Ministries.
  • Sell candles and pins (made by people with HIV) to raise funds and awareness. Contact Church World Service at 888-297-2767 or for pins, or call 615-297-8764 to order candles.
  • Wear a red ribbon and ask others to do the same.
  • Create an AIDS Task Force in your local congregation.
  • Reach out personally to an HIV-infected person and provide support and loving care.

Compiled from UMNS stories by Mary Beth Coudal and Erik Alsgaard and information from the General Board of Church and Society.