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The Role of Faith Communities in HIV Health

In the United States, the rate of HIV infections has stabilized in all age groups except young men aged 13 to 25. In that age group, there has been a recent 22 percent spike in new cases among men who have sex with men, with African American gay and bisexual men accounting for about 60 percent of the new cases.  In response, three Chicago hospitals have teamed with 60 community agencies to battle HIV and ignorance about disease-safe sex among teens and young adults. One Chicago faith community, Urban Village Church, has made welcoming those with HIV a priority, and a consortium of the city's faith communities has founded Night Ministry, an outreach program that offers information and resources, and sponsors a van that can provide on-site HIV screening and results in just 15 minutes.

Since the emergence of HIV/AIDS, churches have been powerful sources of community and support, but they have also been a primary driver of shaming and stigmatizing people with HIV/AIDS. Many churches have also been notably silent on the disease, suggesting that "there's a problem that we really don't want to speak about," says Matt Richards, who works with the University of Chicago Medicine's Community Programs division, speaking in a news video prepared by correspondent Judy Valente for Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, a source for cutting edge reporting and commentary at the intersection of faith and society.

Richards thinks churches can do more, and because a failure to stop the recent increases in HIV could result in a renewed AIDS epidemic, he says, faith communities ought to be more engaged. Programs like Night Ministry can be a prototype for other faith-based HIV community outreach efforts. In the words of Rabbi Menachem Cohen, a participant in the ecumenical group sponsoring Night Ministry, the key is, "we meet people where they are at, and we provide the services they need."

For more on faith community-based social service outreach see our feature articles, "Congregations and Social Outreach," and "Best Resources for Community Engagement."

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