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Editorials and Commentary
AIDS Sufferers Face a World of Hostility

December 5, 2002

"Not since an Indiana community ran off a 13-year-old hemophiliac -- shaming itself and prompting national soul searching -- has overt discrimination against people with AIDS been socially acceptable. Yet more than a decade after the death of Ryan White, AIDS-related stigma continues on a more subtle, but still painful, level. Around the world, discrimination against people with AIDS is alive, well -- and deadly. ...

"Poverty, ignorance, promiscuity and women's unequal status all play a part in the spread of AIDS in developing countries. So do stigma and discrimination.

"Those who have experienced the sting of alienation learn quickly to hide their disease. Many never get tested, seek treatment or find the support they need to live with AIDS. They see what happens to those who admit their HIV status: eviction, unemployment, violence, even murder. They see children stigmatized by their parents' disease. ...

"To its shame, the church has been largely silent -- even complicit -- in the mistreatment of those with AIDS. Distracted, perhaps, by the desire to separate themselves from the perceived sins of those with the virus, many Christians have neglected their first call: to love the sick and hurting. ...

"Despite the best work of science, neither a vaccine nor a cure is on the horizon. New strategies are needed to fight the disease. We must allow those with AIDS to feel safe admitting their illness. We must embrace them, regardless of our opinion of their sexual practices. We must help them find medical care and we must provide them, and their families, with emotional care.

"Each of us can play a part:

"Ryan White and his family brought the plight of those infected with and affected by this disease into our living rooms. What many of us did not know then, we cannot deny today: Love, acceptance, support and care are life-affirming answers to the AIDS pandemic -- and our best weapons in fighting this disease."

The author is founder and pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain, Mass., and a graduate of Harvard Medical School.

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Excerpted from:
Boston Herald
12.01.02; Ray Hammond

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