While the media focus is on in-fighting over sexuality and gender, the July 2008 Lambeth Conference of worldwide Anglican bishops will be challenged to look outwards at the HIV-AIDS pandemic facing millions in Africa.
The UK-based international development agency Christian Aid is publishing what it calls "a ground-breaking report" on the HIV situation in Sudan for the high profile conference – an event that brings together Bishops from around the world and occurs only once every 10 years.
The report, entitled Condemned, invisible and isolated, examines the stigma, discrimination and prejudice faced by people living with HIV in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and explores the social, economic and medical repercussions of HIV for those living with it.
"This report highlights the urgent need to work with people living with HIV in Sudan, and to challenge the stigma and discrimination they experience," said Lino Baba Diye, head of the Christian Aid HIV programme in Sudan, "so that we can work together to prevent further infections, and provide care and support for the many people in Sudan already living with HIV."
Dr Rachel Baggaley, head of Christian Aid’s HIV unit, explained the timing. "We are launching this report at the Lambeth conference to challenge Anglican leaders to speak out against stigma and discrimination, and to fulfil their duty to support people with HIV in a bold and open way," she said.
Condemned, invisible and isolated is being launched at a Christian Aid afternoon event on 22 July, in a self-select session for bishops entitled the Crucial Witness: the Response of Church Leaders to HIV Stigma and Discrimination.
Participants will explore the role of church leaders in setting moral and ethical parameters on evidence-based prevention, and the radical inclusion of persons living with HIV.
In particular, the event will look at Silence, Stigma, Discrimination, Inaction and Misaction (SSDIM) and the ways in which an organisation called INERELA+ are responding to this challenge. INERELA+ is the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS, and is a major Christian Aid partner.
The Rev Canon Gideon Byamugisha, founder of INERELA+, is a goodwill ambassador on HIV and AIDS for Christian Aid.
"This report brings the seriousness of this reality out of the closet for life-defending and life-enhancing policy makers and opinion leaders, so they can reflect and act with urgency and courage," he commented; "and it helps the reader appreciate that behind the faceless and painless statistics, there are real people, real families and real communities. Their lives would have been safer, healthier and better in the absence of this evil called ‘stigma’."
Byamugisha added: "This situation is not inevitable. In Sudan, I have met a number of committed officials, faith leaders, and common citizens who are working ceaselessly to defeat this epidemic in their beloved country, as they are in many countries and communities of Africa."
Read the full report here (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat file): http://christianaid.org.uk/images/stigmatisation.pdf
The book Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, edited by Simon Barrow, is published by Shoving Leopard / Ekklesia.