CHURCHES URGED TO LOVE AND CARE FOR HIV/AIDS VICTIMS

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PACNEWS DIGEST

In Fiji, an inter denominational church group has been formed to provide a united response to HIV/AIDS by undertaking community education and providing volunteer carers and spiritual and emotional support for people with HIV/AIDS, their families and carers.

Known as CAPE Fiji, it stands for Churches, AIDS and related diseases, Pastoral Care and Education. This month their work was boosted with a donation of $US 3,000 from the Suva-based United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative, Romulo Garcia.

Garcia said, "HIV/AIDS is one of the development and social issues in which the church can play an important role. Caring for people with HIV/AIDS rather than discriminating against them has been proven to be one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of the disease. As the church is influential in the lives of Pacific Islanders and plays an important role in creating the much needed caring environment, I welcome the opportunity of this partnership between the UN and CAPE Fiji."

Sister Emi Oh, the Secretary and initiator for CAPE Fiji, said church people have to be reminded they need to practice the gospel of love, care and compassion rather than that of fear, ignorance and injustice.

"We need to respond in a more caring, compassionate, Christian and humanitarian way, rather than being judgmental and discriminatory against people living with HIV/AIDS. We need to approach the problem in a more holistic way, relating HIV/AIDS to issues such as human sexuality, relationships, poverty and the social and economic realities of people's lives rather than providing prescriptions which do not take these factors into account," Sister Emi said.

In May, CAPE Fiji organized a Programme for the 16th annual Candlelight Ceremony to commemorate those who have died from AIDS, provide support to people living with HIV/AIDS and to mobilize an expanded response from the community. Because the Pacific Conference of Churches is a member of CAPE Fiji, member churches throughout the Pacific were urged to commemorate the event.

"It is time for the churches to reflect on and more importantly, talk about what it can do to overcome ignorance, and prevent discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS. The Candlelight Ceremony provides us with an ideal opportunity to do this," said Sister Emi.

Members of CAPE Fiji include the Fiji Council of Churches, Pacific Council of Churches, Salvation Army, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, CEPAC (the Catholic Bishops’ Conference), University of the South Pacific Counselling Centre, SafetyNet, Reproductive and Family Health Association of Fiji, Responsible Parenthood Association and UNAIDS - the joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

Steven Vete Sister Emi Frances Oh UNAIDS Inter Country Programme Advisor Secretary - CAPE Fiji c/- UNDP c/o Fiji Council of Churches Private Mail Bag P.O. Box 2300 9B Suva, Fiji Suva, Fiji Phone: (679) 304-600 Phone: (679) 313-798 Fax: (679) 300-462 Fax: (679) 313-798 e-mail: svete@undp.org.fj e-mail: fccgroup@is.com.fj

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