The Indian government and United Nations officials have praised the minority Christian community in the world's second most populous nation for its dedicated care for those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS, and for its work to combat the pandemic - writes Anto Akkara from New Delhi.
"You are our star players. You are doing wonderful service in the fight against AIDS," said Sujata Rao, director general of the Indian government's National AIDS Control Organization. Her accolades came during the final session of a 12-13 April 2007 seminar in New Delhi focussing on the response of churches to AIDS in India.
More than 150 participants, including delegates from 78 AIDS care and support centres run by the Roman Catholic Church, attended the conference organised by the healthcare commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India with the support of the New York based-Catholic Medical Mission Board and UNAIDS.
Assuring government assistance to the Catholic Church's service to ostracised HIV victims and their families, NACO chief Rao noted that, "HIV affected people respond to drugs much better when they get care and love."
While the training of nurses has been the strength of missionary hospitals, Rao pointed out that in north-eastern India's Nagaland state, where Baptists have a strong presence, "the Church is talking to the youth" and spreading awareness about AIDS.
The Catholic Church is the single largest non-governmental HIV and AIDS care provider in India, with more than 2000 beds in dedicated centres, alongside those offered in general hospitals.
According to UNAIDS, India has the largest number of HIV-infected people with an estimated 5.7 million cases, more than South Africa's 5.6 million cases. NACO, however, puts the figure at 5.2 million HIV cases in India.
"The UN will offer all its support for your work," Denis Brown, UNAIDS country director for India, earlier told the delegates. Highlighting the crucial role faith-based groups can play in combating AIDS, Brown pointed out that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, with NACO's collaboration, has decided to support 45 new HIV/AIDS centres to be opened by the Catholic Church in different parts of the country.
The fund disburses billions of dollars in grants to fight the three lethal diseases worldwide.
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]