IOCC, Ethiopian Orthodox Church Expand Anti-Aids Campaign

New $6 million agreement with USAID will strengthen efforts

A group of children gathers near an Orthodox monastery in Ethiopia, an African country where AIDS has left an estimated 1.2 million children as orphans. International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are collaborating on a newly-expanded anti-AIDS education campaign, and efforts to provide care for adults and children affected by HIV/AIDS. Photo: Nicholas Chakos-IOCC

Baltimore, MD (January 28, 2004) — In Ethiopia, a country with an ancient Christian heritage and the third largest number of HIV-positive people in the world, the customary greeting from an Orthodox priest to his parishioners has become, “May God save you and your family from AIDS.”

The HIV/AIDS epidemic has affected Ethiopia like few other countries in Africa, prompting an increasingly vigorous effort by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to educate the nation about the disease and to care for the afflicted.

Now, that campaign is getting a boost from International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), the humanitarian aid agency of Orthodox Christians. The new IOCC program will strengthen the anti-AIDS efforts of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and its humanitarian arm, the Development and Inter-Church Aid Commission (DICAC).

“This battle requires the cooperation of everyone within Ethiopia, and from outside, who has the resources and expertise to help,” said His Holiness Abune Paulos, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. “The Church by itself cannot do it all. IOCC is our natural ally.”

The three-year, $6 million project, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development, will build the Church’s capacity to care for AIDS orphans and to give palliative and hospice care to people living with HIV/AIDS.

By 2006, the project plans to extend faith-based community care to nearly 9,000 orphans and vulnerable children, providing them with adult supervision and access to education, health care, food, shelter and other forms of assistance.

The project also seeks to reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS infections in Ethiopia through an educational campaign that promotes the importance of abstinence and/or faithfulness to one partner, especially among young people ages 15 to 24.

“IOCC is honored to be collaborating with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in this critical HIV/AIDS prevention campaign, and in its efforts to care for people suffering with the disease,” said IOCC Executive Director Constantine M. Triantafilou. “Our mission and our faith require us to be engaged in this fight for the future of Ethiopia and for her people.”

IOCC has been active in Ethiopia since 2001, when it began supporting small-scale agricultural projects in partnership with DICAC.

The Church and IOCC will implement the AIDS project in the 11 largest urban centers in the Southern Nationalities & Nation-People Region and the regions of Oromiya and Tigray. An estimated 2.2 million people in Ethiopia are HIV-positive, including 250,000 children under age 5. An estimated 1.2 million Ethiopian children have been orphaned by AIDS.

Ninety percent of the reported AIDS cases in Ethiopia affect people between the ages of 20 and 49. “This is the most productive segment of the population,” said Tedla Teshome, vice chairman of DICAC. “Our job is really to save a generation. The very existence of the nation is at stake.”

Patriarch Paulos has become an outspoken leader on the challenge of HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia, holding large “Save the People” rallies each year. The Church also regularly promotes its anti-AIDS message in worship services, Bible studies and Sunday school classes.

Because of its size, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is uniquely equipped to deliver this message to a large segment of the population, Teshome said. With 35,000 churches and monasteries, and 500,000 clergy, including priests, deacons and monks, the Church has access to the most remote parts of Ethiopia, he said.

IOCC and DICAC, with a joint contribution valued at $1 million, will conduct the HIV/AIDS education campaign through public rallies, peer counseling, posters, literature, T-shirts, skits and musical productions.

Another component of the project is the training of counselors who will spread the message of AIDS prevention beyond the life of the program, and who will train others. With this model of “trained trainers,” thousands of counselors will be available to support the anti-AIDS campaign by 2006.

The project also will expand the Church’s network of “Hope Centers” for AIDS orphans – increasing the number of centers from the current 13 to 200 – and will expand hospice care for people living with HIV/AIDS – increasing the number of community-based programs to 250 by the year 2006.

USAID administers the U.S. foreign assistance program, providing economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide.