The World Council of Churches stated Wednesday that churches must advocate for people living with HIV and AIDS to have access to the treatments made available by medical science.
"Faith-based communities have a responsibility to advocate that antiretroviral treatments as well as treatment for other opportunistic infections be made available and accessible to all" who need them, the WCC central committee statement affirmed.
The statement also challenged churches to a greater commitment in fighting the pandemic and welcoming positive people into their communities.
"For the first time ever, the world possesses the means to reverse the global epidemic," it noted.
The leadership of the churches was encouraged "to exercise their role as advocates for just policies" and to hold governments accountable for their promises. The statement further called on the G8 governments to adhere to their promises of funding and response to reach universal access to treatment, care and support by 2010.
The private sector, especially pharmaceutical companies, was also urged to invest in needed research and to ensure that their drugs for treating HIV are available at low prices in low- and middle-income countries.
The WCC central committee acknowledged that "while the churches have been on the front line of care and support for people affected by the pandemic, many of us have also been complicit in stigmatizing and marginalizing people living with HIV and AIDS."
It therefore encouraged churches "to continue to play a critical role in overcoming the pandemic through responses that are tempered by compassion and qualified by competence." Among those, it mentioned "providing comprehensive and evidence-based information on prevention of HIV transmission," as well as "ensuring access to voluntary and confidential counseling and testing".
The WCC central committee also called on churches and Christians "to promote greater and more meaningful involvement and participation of people living with HIV and AIDS," as well as "the acceptance by the churches of persons living with HIV and AIDS."
They are "precious members of the community," the statement affirmed.
The statement further recognized that there are "aspects of the church response to HIV and AIDS about which there is continual disagreement."
Therefore, while acknowledging the "lifesaving responsibility of all to protect themselves through practicing abstinence outside of marriage, fidelity in marriage and a healthy way of life including rejection of drug abuse," it also called for "ongoing ecumenical reflection" on "the response to those who, contrary to the church witness, engage in high-risk sexual activity or drug use, including the appropriate means of prevention."
The WCC central committee urged churches to promote "deeper theological and ethical reflection on HIV and AIDS," as well as "open and inclusive discussions on issues related to sexuality, gender-based violence and intravenous drug use to empower individuals and communities to be less vulnerable to HIV."
AIDS, which causes 8,000 deaths a day and has left 13 million children orphaned, "remains a serious threat to humanity," it noted. The fact that many are still "ill-informed" and thus "not equipped to prevent this eminently preventable disease" makes it "obligatory to engage in and work to overcome the viruses of ignorance, silence and fear."
The "Statement on Churches' Compassionate Response to HIV and AIDS" is the third issued by the WCC central committee in its history. The first one was adopted in 1986 and the second in 1996.
The WCC Central Committee meeting, which took place Aug. 30 - Sept. 6 in Geneva, was the first meeting of the new committee since its election last February at the 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The central committee serves as the main decision-making body of the WCC between assemblies. The purpose of the meeting was to decide on program plans and a renewed organizational structure, and appoint a series of advisory bodies.