A new initiative is underway to enlist the faith community in combatting the rise of HIV/AIDS among African Americans in Los Angeles.
The campaign, entitled The Black Church & HIV, aims to establish a network of faith leaders, religious institutions, and community members committed to making change and ending the HIV epidemic.
Positioning HIV as a social justice issue, advocates insist that faith leaders are trusted community educators who can address the inequities and stigma surrounding the disease.
“In the health care system, there are higher rates of mortality and there is a lower quantity and quality of health care resources in our community,” said the Rev. Kelcy Steele, pastor of First AME Zion Church in Los Angeles.
“As a local pastor, I continue to preach and teach and bring awareness around this issue to help remove the ignorance around HIV and drive away the stigma that prevents people from getting tested and seeking the appropriate medical care.”
Steele was among 30 pastors, first ladies and community members who gathered April 14 to receive training on addressing the HIV epidemic within their congregations. The presentation, conducted by the Rev. William Francis of The Black Church & HIV, included strategies to incorporate the social justice approach in existing church ministries.
“We hope to get churches to not only sponsor testing with public health officials and social service agencies, but incorporate HIV education and testing into their health and wellness ministries and homeless ministries, and link it to care if there is someone who is HIV positive,” said Francis, who also shared alarming statistics about HIV in California and Los Angeles area.
While only 6.5% of California’s population is Black, African Americans accounted for 18% of those living with HIV or AIDS in 2012. According to a recent survey, 47,148 people in Los Angeles were living with HIV.
The rate of Black males living with the infected with the virus is 2.5 times that of white males and the rate of black females is 9.2 times that of white females. In Los Angeles, heterosexual contact accounted for 15% of new diagnoses among Black persons.
In addition, Blacks are more likely to progress from HIV to AIDS within one year of receiving an HIV diagnosis, they are less likely to know they have the virus, less likely to get treatment and more likely to die of complications of AIDS than any other race.
“There is an immediate need for faith leaders to take action for what is happening with HIV in the Black community. For generations, the Black Church has been a leader for change in the Black community on issues of social justice, including voting rights and employment opportunities. Today, we are applying this tradition of social justice advocacy to the HIV epidemic,” said Francis.
“We want to let our community know that number one, it’s a very important issue; two, it’s nothing to be afraid of; and three, I believe that everyone should be tested,” added Steele.
To learn more about awareness and involvement opportunities, visit http://theblackchurchandhiv.org