Churches bring HIV/AIDS to the forefront

Feb. 27, 2013 @ 12:43 PM

HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects the African American community, and local churches are addressing the issue in Durham. Predominantly African American churches will observe the National Week of Prayer for the Healing of HIV/AIDS next week with several events.

"We believe that all communities, and faith groups in particular, should be aware folks living with HIV/AIDS should be supported and embraced in the community,” said Yvonne Dunlap, chairwoman of the 16th annual observance in Durham. She became involved in 2002 as a member of Delta Sigma Theta and has been part of it since.

About 50 churches have worked together over the years to plan and host events. The first one is Sunday morning at Union Baptist Church, where Dunlap is a member. Churches taking the early lead include Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, St. Mark AME Church, St. Titus’ Episcopal Church, Covenant Presbyterian Church, North East Baptist Church and Holy Cross Catholic Church, she said.

Dunlap said that HIV/AIDS can be a hard subject to talk about in the African American community.

“The stigma associated with having AIDS and misinformation is still in our community,” Dunlap said. “We say it’s something else. Since we won’t acknowledge it, it’s still rampant in the African American community in general and the Durham community.” HIV is transmitted by sexual contact, injection drug use, mother-to-child (perinatal), and blood transfusions. The highest incidence of infection in Durham, she said, is in African American men.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans account for 44 percent of all new teen and adult HIV infections. In 2010, the CDC reports, black men accounted for 70 percent of new infections.

Rev. Daphne Wiggins, an associate pastor at Union Baptist Church, said that the Church has not always shed a positive light on issues concerning sexuality. Churches have been part of the silent collusion, she said.

“We can at least encourage parishioners to take care of their bodies. It’s OK to talk about sexuality,” she said. Wiggins said that they no longer want to be part of the stigmatizing, and churches should treat HIV/AIDS like any other health problem, such as diabetes or cancer.

“We want to encourage testing. We want to get people the information and take the fear out of it,” Wiggins said. Events include those aimed toward youth, like the Sunday session, “Real Talk: What Youth Need to Know about HIV/AIDS.”

“Being faith-based, we definitely encourage abstinence, but also if not, here are some ways to protect yourself,” she said.

Wiggins said they want to raise awareness so people don’t forget that HIV/AIDS is still impacting the Durham community. Treatment doesn’t have to be a death sentence, she said. At each event organizers are collecting canned goods and accepting donations that will be given to local agencies that have HIV/AIDS programs. Wiggins said that while the events are at African American or interracial congregations, everyone is welcome.

“All we hope is that churches within each community will get as many folks out as they can. It’s a tough subject,” Dunlap said. She said many people are still misinformed about the disease, from how it’s transmitted to how long people are living with AIDS. She said organizers encourage people to become informed.

“You have to inspire people to provide care, compassion and support to people living with the disease,” Dunlap said.