With the number of people with AIDS increasing dramatically in India, a national forum of Christian hospitals and health workers has resolved to engage churches in an AIDS awareness campaign.

"We want to involve not only the service wing of the churches but the church leadership and the congregations in the fight against AIDS," said Vijay Aruldas, general secretary of the Christian Medical Association of India (CMAI).

CMAI, a forum of 4,000 Christian health workers and 370 health-care institutions affiliated with Protestant and Orthodox churches, held its biennial general assembly in early November. At the assembly, CMAI set up a task force "to monitor progress" on AIDS abatement. Experts at the assembly stopped short, however, of advocating particular preventive practices, such as the use of condoms, which is controversial in some churches.

"Our policy is not to propagate condom usage," Aruldas said. "It is left to individual churches and institutions to decide on this." Although some churches mention condom usage in AIDS programs and even recommend it to high risk groups, most of the churches shy away from the subject, he said.

V. I. Mathan, a leading AIDS expert, told assembly delegates that in 1990, 200,000 people in India were infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. By the end of 1999, an estimated 3.9 million people were living with it—making the country second only to South Africa in the number of people infected.

He stressed that the consequences of AIDS went beyond the strictly medical. "HIV infection brings with it an enormous social stigma. Health workers cannot do much about it. We need the churches and congregations to come forward to fight this," said Mathan.

P. S. S. Sundar Rao, director of Schieffelin Leprosy and Training Centre in south India, said some church groups were misguided in establishing sanatoriums to house people with AIDS and their families.

In the name of helping people, these groups were "repeating the same mistake we did in the past by stigmatizing the families" of the leprosy-infected, Rao said, "by building separate colonies for them. Such institutions have to be closed down at the earliest."

Copyright © 2001 ENI.

Related Elsewhere:

The Christian Medical Journal reflects the views, interests, and reactions of the Christian Medical Association of India (CMAI).

The Church of North India has also made a commitment to educate the country about AIDS.

Mainstream coverage of the AIDS epidemic in India includes a CNN article on The impact of AIDS on Indian children and BBC's look at the outreach to Asian men by AIDS organizations.

For a list of NGO's fighting AIDS in India click here.

Last summer, Christianity Today's covered efforts by Asian Christians to overcome the prejudice against people with AIDS in "Pastors as Grave Diggers."

For more articles on AIDS worldwide, see Yahoo Full Coverage.