Russian Orthodox Church Launches Campaign to Stop Spread of AIDS Epidemic
September 9, 2005
To help curb Russia's growing HIV epidemic, the Russian Orthodox Church launched a new program Tuesday to provide spiritual guidance and practical support to HIV/AIDS patients and their families. Priests will be instructed to treat people living with the disease "as any other person suffering from some serious illness" and will be encouraged to promote tolerance among their congregations.
The program also calls for the creation of HIV/AIDS hotlines at churches and asks nuns and other church servants to care for ill patients at hospitals. According to Priest Vladimir Shmal, the program is not limited to Orthodox Christians but is open to any person in need.
To prevent the spread of HIV, the program calls for teaching religious morals and discouraging sex with multiple partners and homosexuality, which the church views as sinful. "The disease and sin are very closely connected," said Father Vsevolod Chaplin, a senior church official.
Since the Soviet collapse, HIV/AIDS in Russia has spread at an alarming rate due to insufficient prevention and lack of anti-drug programs. Experts believe the number of HIV cases in the country is more than 1 million -- three times the government's statistics.
Alexander Goliusov, an AIDS expert with the Federal Consumer Rights and Public Well-Being watchdog group, commended the church's cooperation in tackling the issue. "Federal authorities, those that deal with this problem, view the Orthodox Church as an extremely valuable and necessary partner in combating the epidemic," said Goliusov.
But some believe the church's response has been too slow. "Unfortunately, this concept appeared [only] today -- better late than never," said Mikhail Narkevich, deputy head of the AIDS coordinating council with Russia's Health Ministry. "Other confessions have been more efficient in reacting to this problem."
09.06.2005; Maria Danilova