Introduction

Although the global epidemic of HIV today does not occupy the headlines of major newspapers, we cannot ignore that the virus still circulates among us, and that every day 7,000 people become infected and 5,000 die from it.

Great advances have been made in the field of prevention and treatment of this infection. The rapid growth of the epidemic seems to have slowed down, and the statistics show that the respective figures seem to be stabilizing.

However, there is one aspect that has not yet been resolved, and we refer specifically to the problem of stigma.

According to the WHO, “between the years 2011-2015, World AIDS Days will have the theme of “Getting to zero: zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths”. If we think of “Zero Discrimination” we find that it is closely related to stigma.

People living with HIV and AIDS face not only the medical problems that cause the disease, but also social and emotional problems associated with it.

Stigma is perhaps the most important barrier preventing open talk on this issue; an increased prevention and outreach to those at high risk of infection, or to the ones who need treatment.

Therefore, we need to put special emphasis on this particular problem and use the opportunity of the 1st of December to promote HIV/AIDS awareness, testing, and support to those who are infected and/or affected.

Today, what the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki Moon said four years ago in 2008, still applies: “Stigma remains the single most important barrier to public action. It is the main reason why too many people are afraid to see a doctor to determine whether they have HIV, or to seek treatment if so. It helps make AIDS the silent killer, because people fear the social disgrace of speaking about it, or taking easily available precautions. Stigma is a chief reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world.”

At a time when the scientific world is gradually agreeing on the need for universal HIV testing, stigma negatively affects those seeking HIV testing, and also seeking treatment and care after diagnosis. Stigma isolates people from their families and communities and affects the overall quality of life of HIV patients.

It is now more than 30 years since AIDS was first diagnosed, and it is taking far too long to resolve the problem. Stigma associated with the disease has largely been responsible for this. We wonder how aware we are of our responsibility in this regard! Do we realize that by not promoting an open conversation about this topic in our churches, that we are actively helping to create a situation in which many of our members are suffering and dying from this condition, without the compassionate love and care of their fellow church-members?

The compassion of Jesus did not discriminate among the people. His love was all-inclusive.

For all these reasons, today and more than ever before, the Adventist AIDS International Ministry promotes the organization of Associations of Adventists Living With HIV/AIDS in our churches.

Let us all support this initiative to help our brothers and sisters touched by this epidemic, so that they can openly disclose their status and continue living normal and productive lives without fear of discrimination.

“The compassion of Jesus did not discriminate among the people.

His love was all-inclusive.”

May God bless you!

Drs. Oscar & Eugenia Giordano

Directors AAIM