As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we are reminded of the promise of life that was given to us, unconditionally. Scriptures teach us that God's gift of life extends to all of us, no matter our circumstances. In the words of Apostle Paul, "So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all..." (Galatians 6:9-10).
For many years, Lutherans, Episcopalians and other communities of faith have been engaged in efforts to provide care, treatment, prevention services, and have supported initiatives that fight stigma and discrimination towards those living with HIV. We mourn the 35 million lives lost to AIDS and, with 36.7 million people still living with HIV worldwide, our churches, our governments, and all other partners need to do more. We encourage Lutherans and Episcopalians near and far to stand in solidarity with all persons living with HIV, and to continue the difficult work of building an AIDS-free generation. We recommit ourselves to a future free of this pandemic.
A challenge of this magnitude requires all our efforts. Inequitable access to the life-saving medications, healthy diet and other vital determinants for breaking the hold of this epidemic, continue to disproportionately impact persons of color. A significant piece of this work is to ensure that antiretroviral medications are available to everyone who needs it. Currently, less than half of people affected by HIV have access to these lifesaving medications. Studies have shown that when a person who is HIV+ takes antiretroviral medications continuously and correctly, their viral load can be suppressed to the point where they are no longer infectious. In other words, treatment is prevention. And so, we must expand our efforts in this area.
We are called as people of faith actively to eliminate stigma and discrimination within our own faith communities and especially that which affects marginalized vulnerable and key populations (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, sex workers, people who inject drugs, prisoners, migrants, women and girls). We must be steadfast in our defense of the dignity and human rights of all people living with HIV.
As part of the sustainable development goals, which the United Nations adopted in September of 2015, the international community has committed to end the AIDS epidemic by the year 2030. Further commitments were made in June of this year when 192 countries meeting at the United Nations declared they will accelerate and scale up responses to HIV and AIDS to meet the goal of ending the epidemic by 2030. A critical pathway to this goal is the 90-90-90 strategy, which aims to ensure that by year 2020, 90% of those living with HIV will receive a diagnosis, 90% of persons living with HIV will receive antiretroviral medication, and 90% of those receiving antiretroviral will have their viral load suppressed.
Lack of funding for HIV and AIDS programs remains a challenge. The goal of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 will not be achieved if donor countries fail to address this funding gap. We call upon President-elect Donald Trump to make a public commitment to the global fight against HIV. We urge the new Administration and Congress to increase funding for PEPFAR; the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and domestic programs that provide preventive and treatment services in the United States.
**The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America**