Presbyterians Today

OCT-NOV 2017

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30 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2017 | Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay O n the day PC(USA) member Francis Ntowe's sister was buried, there were six other funerals in her small community in Cameroon. "One of them was a pastor, and all of them had died from HIV/AIDS," he said. "Every single one." The AIDS victims included Ntowe's sister, although some family members were convinced she was the victim of witchcraft. "My younger sister died from HIV/AIDS, which my mother doesn't want to hear," said Ntowe, a pharmacist in Chicago. "She believes that one of our neighbors did not like us and was the sorcerer for the death of my sister." Scientists have known for decades that AIDS is caused by HIV, a virus spread primarily through unpro- tected sex and needle sharing. But ignorance and denial contribute to the spread of the disease as well. Addressing those problems is a major way Presbyterians are working to fight an epidemic that continues to ravage a continent. Each year, there are nearly 1.5 million new infec- tions and more than 800,000 deaths across Africa and the Middle East, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS. Ntowe, a member of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, was moved to get involved not only because of the situation in Africa but also because his pastor asked him to help move a young Illinois AIDS patient into hospice care. "Me being a naïve African, my first question was, 'Does that person not have family?' " Ntowe recalled. The young man did have a family, but they had disowned him after his diagnosis. The juxtaposition of ignorance about AIDS in both his native and adopted countries prompted Ntowe to found what is now called Prevent AIDS Africa (PAA) in 2006. His goal: to bring pastors from across Cameroon together for four-day AIDS workshops. Ntowe chose to work with pastors because they are influential in their communities. "If your pastor says something about a disease, most people are going to believe that pastor before they'll believe a doctor," he said. Turning pastors into advocates PAA conducted its first workshop in January 2007, bringing together pastors from each presbytery in the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon. Participants learned how HIV is transmitted, how AIDS is treated and how to counsel patients. But perhaps the most powerful moment came when four church members with AIDS spoke to the group. Presbyterians on the front lines BY MARK RAY in AIDS Fighting

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