CHICAGO -- The Caribbean has the second highest rate of HIV infection in the world after sub-Saharan Africa, according to a report from Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Global Mission. In an effort to examine the HIV and AIDS epidemic in the Caribbean and Latin America, ELCA Global Mission will host a consultation June 28-July 2 in Lima, Peru.
"We are examining places in the world where HIV and AIDS are prevalent," said the Rev. Raquel E. Rodriguez, director, Latin America and Caribbean Continental Desk, ELCA Global Mission.
Rodriguez said a primary purpose of the consultation is to learn more about the work and ministries of Lutheran churches in Latin America and the Caribbean regarding HIV and AIDS, and "how the ELCA can accompany its companions" there, particularly in how the church can shape societal response, develop actions for ministry, engage in biblical and theological reflection, support advocacy and education, and more.
An estimated 2.1 million people are living with HIV in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the ELCA Global Mission report. "The face of HIV and AIDS is changing in Latin America and the Caribbean. It's younger, poorer and feminine," it said.
Rodriguez said the impact of HIV and AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean is much greater than statistics show. Under-diagnosis and underreporting are recognized problems in these regions, as well as access to medication and the capacity of health care systems to respond.
"The HIV and AIDS epidemic is theological, biblical and pastoral," said Rodriguez. She said the gifts that Lutheran churches in Latin America and the Caribbean bring to address the pandemic is the ability to "reread the Bible from the perspective of HIV and AIDS, to engage in theological reflection around the meaning of the epidemic for the mission of the church, and develop new understandings of pastoral ministry."
Participants of the consultation include members of the ELCA and partner Lutheran churches in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Peru and elsewhere.
"I am very interested in hearing about the ministries of our companion churches in the Caribbean and Central and South America," said the Rev. Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl, coordinator for the ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS and the Lutheran Malaria Initiative, ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop.
"The scope of the ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS is indeed global. We talk about the impact of the pandemic in Africa, but it is my desire to be articulate about the impact in other parts of the world," said DeGroot-Nesdahl.
"I am honored to be invited to this consultation and accompany our (ELCA) Global Mission staff in the important work on HIV and AIDS in the Caribbean, Central and South America," she said.
In March 2009 the ELCA Church Council adopted a strategy to address HIV and AIDS. The 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly approved a three-year, $10 million fundraising proposal to support the strategy.