The US government global AIDS coordinator has praised faith-based groups for their action to combat AIDS but warned against an increase in stigma and discrimination against gays, especially in Africa, reports the Catholic News Service.
Deborah Birx told Catholic and interfaith groups gathered separately before the International AIDS Conference began in Melbourne: 'Many of us in the United States can remember the early scenes from St Vincent's Hospital in New York City in the 1980s of desperate and dying young men being cared for by extraordinary and compassionate medical professionals and tireless nuns, when we didn't know how to treat or what to do.
'What began as an awkward relationship between the gay community and the Catholic health care system became a story of acceptance, partnership, compassion and service that became a model for communities around the country and around the world.'
Although the pandemic spread to all corners of the globe: 'your compassion and passion for this work continue to be the heartbeat of the response to HIV,' Birx told the religious leaders last weekend.
She said faith-based groups today provide 30-60 percent of the health care in countries where the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief operates, and much of that work is carried out by Catholics.
'As the largest nongovernmental provider of health care services in the world, the Catholic church has led these efforts,' she said.
While recent scientific advances suggest that the possibility of controlling the pandemic is finally within reach, Birx warned that new obstacles have emerged, particularly in Africa. 'At this very time when we could do so much together, the clouds of discrimination and judgment are gathering across the continent that needs the most support,' she said.
Photo: Demonstrators demand an end to stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV at a march on Tuesday during the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne.
FULL STORY US AIDS official warns against stigma against gays in Africa (CNS)