The story of interfaith response to HIV/AIDS is one that moved from initial doubt, denial and moral hesitation—even direct denunciation—to one of global reach and scale. This is a story that demonstrates both the power and challenges that come from specific beliefs, morals, and theology. It also points to greater possibilities for bridging divides in faith and culture through the power of common action on so great an issue of shared concern.
About three-quarters of the entire world’s population declares to belong to a faith community, so it should be no surprise that churches became deeply involved in responding to the HIV/AIDS crisis. What is surprising is that this engagement has become so extensive. The World Health Organization estimates that between 30 and 70 per cent of all healthcare provided in parts of Africa comes from faith-based organizations and, in many instances, the clinics and hospitals run by church organizations are the only ones available.1 Detailed data remains in urgent need of better collection,2 as the African Religious Health Assets Programme study of Zambia and Lesotho illustrates.3 It established that 30 and 40 per cent, respectively, of all national health care in these two countries alone was provided through churches. In addition to playing a key role in the provision of care for people living with HIV/AIDS, churches have also been vital in providing prevention initiatives and education, as well as pastoral counselling. Yet, perhaps even more important for the long term has been their role in caring for orphans. With an estimated 20 million children orphaned by AIDS worldwide, the provision of care for them by the church has been another area of engagement that is of particular importance in Africa.4