Wednesday, June 03, 2009

General Convention 2009: Health Issues 5

I have written a number of posts on health care issues in the Report to General Convention of the Standing Commission on Health. However, there is another continuing body that has a stake in health care issues. That is the Executive Council Committee on HIV/AIDS.

As they have in past General Conventions, the Committee on HIV/AIDS has provided a report for General Convention, including a number of resolutions. However, the heart of the report is a section on “The State of HIV/AIDS Today,” which centers on three topics. The first points out that infection rates, both in the United States and abroad, continue to rise. The Committee points out that, “In the United States the general infection rate has stabilized at about 56,000 new infections per year (recently revised upward by 40% by the Centers for Disease Control).” Moreover, around the world “The HIV/AIDS pandemic globally also continues to keep pace with our efforts to curb it….For every two persons who receive treatment, an additional five persons become infected.” They note that a number of programs have increased their efforts to fight the disease, “but we remain behind the curve.”

The second concern is that there remains a stigma against those who are infected. The Committee comments,

This stigma keeps us from paying enough attention to the pandemic domestically. The United States does not have a comprehensive plan for addressing the pandemic although we require that of other countries to which we give aid. Good education about HIV/AIDS is lacking, and urban legends persist both domestically and overseas. People are reluctant to get tested and then reluctant to seek care. Those infected and affected are still bereft of the pastoral care and compassion from their communities that usually accompany illness.

Finally, and in light of the last sentence about the stigma, the Committee is concerned about the Church’s response. They acknowledge and honor a number of programs at home and abroad. “However, despite numerous calls for increased education of our young people about their responsibilities and the factual realities of sexual relationships, in many of our parishes this does not happen. We also too easily focus our attention on the pandemic overseas and ignore the people who are suffering in our own neighborhoods.”

In light of these concerns, and of their plans for the next triennium, they summarize the report,

Thus HIV infection rates continue to rise in the United States and globally, while poverty, invisibility and stigma lead to lack of care, lack of concern and lack of a coordinated response. However, we are living in a time of increased interest in public health and access to health care, and growing attention to the global HIV pandemic and the Millennium Development Goals. The church still has an opportunity to demonstrate a Christ-like response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, particularly in our neighborhoods in the United States as well as with our partners overseas.

In response, the Committee proposes a number of resolutions.

  • RESOLUTION A159 ADDRESS THE ISSUE OF AIDS notes the rise in the infection rate, and the call of the Baptismal Covenant for our concern, and resolves specifically, “That the General Convention urges Episcopalians at all levels of the Church to engage in conversations with HIV/AIDS service providers, local health departments and other public and private resources to urge them to address this issue in direct and substantive ways that include the following prevention activities: accurate and explicit prevention information that is sensitive and specific to issues of culture, ethnicity, sexual identity, sexual orientation and the use of IV drugs and recreational drugs;
  • RESOLUTION A160 ACCESS TO ADEQUATE MEDICAL CARE FOR PEOPLE LIVING WITH AIDS “deplores the discrepancies in levels of care and treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS based on poverty, prejudice, ignorance and the lack of visibility;” and calls for the Church to “advocate strongly for access to adequate medical care not based on any factor other than the need for health care.”
  • RESOLUTION A161 AIDS EDUCATION AND RESOURCES calls on the General Convention to “[urge] rovinces, dioceses, congregations and worshiping communities to include accurate and comprehensive HIV and AIDS prevention in youth education programs [and] encourage its congregations and worshiping communities to offer educational programming to interested parents and grandparents on how to discuss sex with their children,” IT also calls for the National Episcopal Aids Coalition (NEAC) and National Episcopal Health Ministries (NEHM) to develop and share materials for the purpose.
  • RESOLUTION A162 DOMESTIC STRATEGY COMMITTEE ON AIDS CRISIS calls for “Executive Council with the assistance of the Committee on HIV/AIDS to convene a domestic strategy meeting for the purpose of developing a comprehensive response to the HIV/AIDS crisis by The Episcopal,” and report on the meeting and its results to the next General Convention.
  • RESOLUTION A163 MANDATE ON NEAC AIDS TUTORIAL calls for General Convention [to] mandate staff and leaders and all active clergy take the on-line tutorial on HIV/AIDS prepared by the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition (NEAC) during this last triennium,” and to monitor compliance.
  • RESOLUTION A164 COMMENDATIONS TO PRESIDING BISHOPS commends our current and most recent Presiding Bishops for their observance of World AIDS Day, and calls for observance of World AIDS Day in congregations.

    There is one other resolution, that is indeed the first resolution. RESOLUTION A158 CONTINUING RESOLUTION calls for General Convention to “authorize the continuation of the Executive Council Standing Committee on HIV/AIDS for the 2010–2012 triennium,” and speaks of the work the Committee foresees in that time. This is in response to the work, if not the specific resolution, of the Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church. That body’s report includes the resolution, RESOLUTION A117 DISCONTINUE THREE COMMITTEES, including the Committee on HIV/AIDS. In their report, the Commission on Structure notes of their efforts that “Clearly these Executive Council Committees have accomplished important work…. The Commission believes it is time for the policy work to be intentionally taken up by existing Standing Commissions, whose mandates already cover the same subject areas.” Arguably, with the exception of the resolution on the NEAC tutorial, the resolutions from the Committee on HIV/AIDS are policy statements. With that in mind, the Commission on Structure says in the Explanation for resolution A117, “The policy work of the Committee on HIV/AIDS should be undertaken by the Standing Commission on Health, now that it has been reestablished and funded. The program work related to HIV/AIDS education and services will continue to be done by the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition (NEAC), which would work closely with the Standing Commission on Health regarding policy initiatives.”

    This is not a new idea, and was discussed in and around the re-establishment of the Commission on Health in 2003 and its funding in 2006. However, the Committee was continued, and the change not made. Certainly, adding HIV/AIDS to the concerns of the Commission on Health is arguable; and adding the funding for HIV/AIDS would add to the budget considerations for the Commission. Whether this will happen in this Convention, however, remains to be seen.

    Certainly, HIV/AIDS remains an important issue, and particularly as a health issue, both in the United States and abroad. As our understanding has changed from “dying of AIDS” to “living with AIDS,” from an acute to a chronic illness, so has our understanding of how HIV/AIDS affects care for the sick, from the institution of “universal precautions” to the issues of funding care for chronic conditions. Conversely, other issues affect how we address HIV/AIDS specifically. For example, as the Anglican Communion is reshaped, addressing the AIDS pandemic in Africa may well be affected by our relationships with Anglicans no longer in communion with the Episcopal Church. The work of the Committee on HIV/AIDS, both in their report and in their proposed resolutions, deserve close attention this July at the General Convention.

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