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Zimbabwe United Methodists Confront AIDS Crisis

New York (UMNS) – United Methodists in Zimbabwe are developing a plan of action to deal with a problem that is devastating their country – the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

"More than any other disease, HIV/AIDS has proved its ability to disrupt the social fabric of the community," said Betty Gittens, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, during a Feb. 8 briefing.

Gittens helped organize a Jan. 17-21 consultation in Kadoma, Zimbabwe, that focused on education, awareness and prevention training on HIV/AIDS. The event, attended by 136 people, was co-sponsored by the board and the Zimbabwe United Methodist Annual Conference.

The church's action plan includes:

According to the United Nations, AIDS has become the leading killer in Africa, responsible for 20 percent of all deaths. On a continent besieged by war, AIDS even kills more people than armed conflicts do. A U.N. world population survey in 1998 found that one of every five adults in Zimbabwe was infected with HIV, with the high mortality rate significantly affecting both its population and growth. In addition, 25 percent of youth between 15 and 19 years old are HIV positive.

"Cultural, social and economic factors make women more likely to contract AIDS than men," Gittens said, adding that women also bear the burden of care for sick family members. A report released by the United Nations last November showed that of the 22.3 million adults infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, 55 percent were women.

The impact of the disease on families has been immense. A U.N. report released last Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, revealed more than 11 million children have been orphaned by AIDS since 1981 and that all but 5 percent of those children live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite these statistics, Zimbabwe's government was in "major denial" about its AIDS crisis and is just now making the political commitment to address the problem, according to Gittens. And while individual churches have tried to deal with the epidemic, "what needs to be done is to come up with an overall AIDS policy" for the denomination, she said.

Basic education about the disease is a first step. United Methodist Bishop Christopher Jokomo, based in Harare, has declared that such education must take place in all local churches. He commissioned all the consultation participants – including clergy, laity and youth – to return home and begin implementing the action plan.

The Board of Global Ministries plans to sponsor three more HIV/AIDS consultations in Africa during 2000, but exact locations and dates have yet to be determined, Gittens said.

Feb. 9, 2000

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Source: United Methodist News Service.


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