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Friday, November 27, 2009

The Ten Things Christians Need to Know About HIV/AIDS

According to UNAIDS there were 33.4 million people living with AIDS, 2.1 million are children. December 1st is World AIDS Day. Over the 29 years that I have worked with people with HIV/AIDS, people often ask the same questions. I thought I would put together a list of the ten most asked questions and/or statements made by those who identify themselves as Christians about HIV.

1) AIDS is a Gay White Man’s disease. This is false, in fact in 1983 when people diagnosed with this disease were mainly gay white men in the United States; there was already an epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. This is where the African-American community got tripped up. Because they only saw images of white men with this disease many thought that this would not affect our community. How wrong we were.

2) You can tell if a person has AIDS by looking at them. False. There is no way you can tell by appearance.

3) You can get HIV by sharing cooking utensils. False. If you are cleaning your properly this should not be a concern. So if you are giving the person living with HIV the plastic ware while others are using regular silverware, please stop it. Let me take this a step further, there is not biblical justification for making people who are living with HIV sit on special pews in a special section of the church. I know that there are some people who feel that people with HIV should be treated like those who suffered from Leprosy in the bible. Leprosy is caused by a bacteria or germ called Mycobacterium leprae. It is an infection that affects the skin and the nerves of the hands and feet and can also cause problems in the eyes and the nose. Is leprosy in the bible the same as it is today? No. The Hebrew word for leprosy refers to many types of skin diseases. It is not necessary to isolate a person with leprosy and it is not transmitted through sexual contact and/or pregnancy. You can go to www.leprosy.org for more information.

4) People with HIV/AIDS should not be baptized. False. You cannot get HIV from getting in a body of water with someone who has it. There is no biblical justification for refusing to baptize a HIV positive person. In other words it’s not about Jesus it’s about our lack of knowledge and/or ignorance.

5) AIDS is a death sentence. False. At one time when we first became aware of the epidemic this would have been true. Now because there are more medications available, people are living longer. There are people who have been living with this disease for over 25 years. Of course there are other factors that will affect the lifespan of a person with HIV. That’s why testing and treatment are important. The most important thing is the person’s attitude because that will affect how they deal with living with the virus.

6) Christians who are HIV positive should not take medication. False. It is up to the person with HIV and their doctor to make that decision. God can use medication to heal too.

7) Everyone who has HIV became infected through sexual contact. False. Although most of the people living with HIV became infected through sexual contact (heterosexual), there are people who became infected through IV drug use, blood transfusions and mother to child transmission. Let’s talk about sexual contact and the prevention of HIV. Condoms are not 100% effective in preventing the transmission of HIV. Condoms are about 85% effective. If you add in human error they are even less effective. Condoms are usually stored in the junk drawer and/or the bottom of a pocketbook where you risk the condoms getting tiny punctures. Storing them in a wallet is better but they still could be damaged by body heat. Condoms that come in flavors really should not be used for penile/vaginal sex; they are primarily for oral sex. The only thing that is 100% is abstinence.

7) People living with HIV should never have children. False. Whenever anyone wants to start a family there are medical, financial, emotional and spiritual factors that should be considered. It is possible for an HIV positive person to have a baby who is HIV negative.

8) People Living with HIV should not work. False. Since there are new medications people with HIV are living longer. However, before starting a new job or returning to school they should check with their physician first.

9) Once you reach a certain age or experience menopause you can’t get HIV. False. This is just wrong, wrong, wrong! Many older women believe that if you can’t get pregnant then you can’t get HIV. This is absolutely not true. The fact of the matter is that people are living longer and yes are having sex. And it not just because of Viagra and Levitra. The numbers of women (especially African-American women) over 50 who are HIV positive is increasing.

Now after reading this some of you may be offended. Believe me that is not my intention. I want to make sure that the Christian community has the correct information so we want to be effective in showing the love of Christ to those living with HIV and eliminating the stigma associated with HIV. There are many people who are affected and don’t know it. Prevention, early intervention and treatment are key. I also want each person to strongly consider getting tested. Everyone should know his or her status. Talk to your doctor or health care provider about getting tested. If you choose not to go your health care provider contact either your local or state health department. You may also call 1(800) CDC-INFO (232-4636), TTY 1 888-232-6348. Remember that ignorance equal death. Knowledge equals life.