During the regional consultation on HIV/AIDS organised by Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and German Evangelical Lutheran Church (DELKU) April 20-25, 40 representatives of European LWF member churches, women and youth leaders, and staff members of regional and international NGOs attended.
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.
This regional consultation on HIV/AIDS was held in Odessa, due to the increasing spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in eastern Europe and central Asia, it compels churches to be more actively involved in the struggle against the stigmatization and discrimination of people living with AIDS.
“The churches are seen as especially important in providing information, awareness raising, advocacy, and in taking leadership,” the regional director of the AIDS Foundation East-West (AFEW), Anja Teltschik said. She works 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.
“Churches, regional and international NGOs and municipal institutions and government offices should collaborate in planning and carrying out joint projects, it 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. The churches particularly should offer a spiritual dimension, provide psychological and social welfare support, and mobilize communities.” Teltschik said.
In the Ukraine and Russia, 80 percent of people living with HIV and AIDS are between 15 and 29 years old. In many countries, knowledge about HIV/AIDS is very limited. 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.