The Archbishop of Cape Town has made an impassioned plea to the worldwide Anglican church not to become sidetracked by issues of homosexuality - so that it forgets the 42 million people worldwide who are living with HIV/AIDS. "More than 90 per cent of these men and women are from developing countries," the Most Rev Njongonkulu Ndungane spoke out, before joining 38 Anglican leaders at Lambeth Palace to discuss the threat of schism caused by diverse views on the gay issue. "The challenge of the HIV and AIDS pandemic touches the church both in the heart of our faith and in the body of our community. It is also a challenge to the church's mind as to what we believe and who we understand ourselves to be," he says. '"important as the issue of homosexuality is, we must not let it divert us from the major life and death issues facing the world. The global emergency of HIV/AIDS should be a priority for the church -13,000 people become HIV positive every day and over half of them are young people under 24. We must not lose our focus on that." Writing in a new Christian Aid report, Dying to learn, the Archbishop warns that embarrassment prevents the church from helping young people to protect themselves. The report calls for all churches to actively support comprehensive sex education for young people. "At the very point in their lives when God has given them all the physical means to love, our young people are, at times, abandoned by parents, society and the church and left to learn by themselves the life skills which sexual relationships require," says the Archbishop. "In a world beset by the devastating HIV pandemic, we are leaving our young people, the flower of our church and our society, to wither and die through ignorance. Through the absence of open, honest and compassionate sharing of vital information and through our embarrassed silence and resistance to reality." Churches have responded quickly to the HIV crisis in providing care, but are less involved in prevention work. In addition to the discomfort experienced by many in talking about sex, the churches have been concerned that sexual health and HIV education may lead to promiscuity among young people. Dying to learn publishes research from the developing world that reveals this is not the case. On the contrary the evidence shows that good quality sexual health and HIV education does not lead to promiscuity; reduces levels of pregnancy and STIs, including HIV; reduces stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS In addition, condoms, used correctly and consistently, are effective in preventing HIV infection among young people who are sexually active. There is, as yet, insufficient academic evidence to conclude that abstinence-only HIV-prevention programmes are beneficial in delaying young peoples' sexual activity. Christian Aid accepts that talking about sex is difficult, but believes it is critical that the churches do not shy away from confronting issues of sex and HIV, and that they support others in their efforts to do so. It is calling for all churches to actively support comprehensive sex education for young people. '"n many countries churches have extensive community networks yet are currently failing to prevent HIV infections among young people and thus saving lives," says Dr Rachel Baggaley, Head of HIV Unit, Christian Aid. "They must follow the examples of other churches to realise their enormous potential in this area." To download a copy of Dying to learn visit the Christian Aid website at: www.christian-aid.org.uk
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