Nagpur, India, 23 October (ENI)--Christians are in the forefront in providing much of the care and treatment for people with HIV in India, but church workers say a lack of understanding about the pandemic is perpetuating stigma and discrimination.(Emphasis added)
"Pastors without proper awareness drive away HIV people from the church. This only leads to their isolation and adds to the stigma," said David Cherian, who coordinates the social work of the Church of South India in the country's southern state of
Christians operate more than a quarter of HIV care centres in the world's second most populous country, which according to UNAIDS has the highest number of people living with the virus in the world.
The UN statistics put the number of people in India with HIV at 5.7 million, while the Indian government puts the figure at 5.2 million.
"When the pastors are judgmental and prejudiced, HIV people try to hide their status and keep away from the church," Cherian said. "This will only negate the good work our people are doing."
Cherian was one of the participants at a recent 14-16 October seminar organized by the Christian Conference of Asia to promote awareness about the pandemic.
"Almost everyone was unanimous that the clergy and others should be better informed about AIDS," the Asian Christian group's HIV/AIDS programme consultant, the Rev. Philip Kuruvilla, told Ecumenical News International. "Otherwise, all our efforts will go down the drain."
Ashok Rao, manager of the Baptist Christian Medical Centre at Jorhat in north-eastern Assam state said that even medical professionals working in church institutions needed to be educated about HIV and AIDS.
Rao told ENI: "I was stunned when doctors suggested to me to transfer a critical patient to a government hospital when they knew he was HIV positive." [310 words]
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