Twenty-five years ago as founder and President, I started the Westside Pastors’ Coalition for AIDS & Inner City Health, after noticing a limited number of faith leaders were involved in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We have come a long way since that time, but the battle is still not over.
Today, a person living with HIV can live a healthy life. HIV is considered a chronic, but manageable illness with proper care and treatment. Sadly, when people of color become ill with HIV, care and treatment are impacted by social risk factors. These factors include poverty, poor education, inconsistent follow-up of with the health care system, drugs, incarceration, and unstable living conditions.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 44 % of all new HIV diagnoses occurred among African-American men, women and children despite the fact that Blacks comprise only 13% of the total population. 1 in 7 Black persons with HIV are unaware they have it and unknowingly spread the virus. Many of these individuals are considered at risk persons (sharing needles, having multiple partners, etc.) who need to become aware of preventive measures, like HIV testing and can then take advantage of HIV treatment and care.
The faith community can play a major role in eradicating the HIV/AIDS pandemic in conjunction with promoting health equity in the city of Chicago.
I’m proud to say WSPCA will be coordinating an 9-week Clergy HIV/AIDS Training in the Fall of 2021 with McCormick Theological Seminary (located at 5460 S. University in Chicago). The course is designed to increase faith leaders’ knowledge about HIV/AIDS and enhance their skills to minister to all people.
Think about it. Through this training, faith leaders will be empowered to become a navigator, to guide people in their congregations, on where to get HIV care and treatment. Also, faith leaders’ skills will be enhanced to provide positive spiritual care to people living with HIV. Our hope is for faith leaders, health care practitioners, politicians and the community can work collectively to end this epidemic.
Just as our Lord Jesus while on this earth turned no one away, our church should not be a place where people experience stigma and discrimination, but rather experience healing, love and compassion.
I trust and pray that you join with us at WSPCA, as we work to eradicate HIV/AIDS. Victory is possible if we all work together. We can’t do it alone; it is going to take all of us!
Thank you for your support over the years.
Rev. Stan Stephens