Episcopal Bishop Statement on HIV and AIDS

Episcopal News Service. June 26, 2001 [2001-171L]

June 2001

Dear President Bush and Members of Congress:

As bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States, we ask for your support in the global fight against HIV and AIDS in the poorest countries. We do so as part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and out of our profound sense that when one member of the body suffers, all suffer, as the Apostle Paul tells us. Our faith also calls us to "bear one another's burdens," in fidelity to Christ.

There are now 36 million people living with HIV and AIDS around the world, 70% of them in Africa. 22 million people have already died. AIDS is now the number one cause of death in Africa, surpassing malaria, and kills many more people than armed conflicts. According to a February 2001 study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, "In the next decade alone AIDS is projected to leave up to one-quarter of the citizens of the most acutely affected African countries dead, orphan 27 million children, reduce already marginalized economies by 20 percent, and severely strain fragile, or already failing, health and other government structures." HIV and AIDS is not only a humanitarian disaster that challenges our moral fiber, it poses serious economic and security threats to the region.

As Episcopalians, we are connected to Anglicans across the globe, spanning 164 countries. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to the largest and fastest growing population of Anglicans in the world. Our partners in that region put a face on these unimaginable statistics, telling stories of the effect of HIV-AIDS on their communities, losing educators, doctors, parents, children. Our Presiding Bishop met recently with 35 Heads of Anglican Churches from around the world. For the first time, Archbishops from Africa and elsewhere shared openly the devastation caused by the disease, and asked for our help.

To be certain, religious leaders in Africa and elsewhere have a role to play, helping to overcome the stigma and cultural obstacles to effective HIV prevention and education, advocating with their government leaders to act, and perhaps assisting in the distribution of materials and medicines. Our Church in the U.S. must play its part through direct relief and development resources, and through educating our congregations. We ask the U.S. government to do its part by taking bold action on this most critical issue. We acknowledge the strides already underway in Washington, and hope to build upon that momentum. For us, there could be no more important faith-based partnership with the government than one that begins to address the tragedy of HIV and AIDS in poor countries.

The costs are difficult to estimate. UNAIDS and the World Bank estimate $3-4.2 billion annually from all international donors for basic prevention and non-antiretroviral treatment in sub-Saharan Africa. A recent Harvard study would add another $1-3 billion for antiretroviral treatment, reaching only a small number of those infected. Clearly, there needs to be comprehensive analysis of what is needed to reduce HIV infection rates and care for those affected.

In the absence of clear projected costs, we urge you provide an annual U.S. contribution of $2 billion - $1 billion for HIV-AIDS prevention and treatment, and $1 billion for development and infrastructure needs - to launch an effective international response to HIV-AIDS. This is roughly double the current U.S. spending on these items. The United States has been the unquestioned leader in the international response to AIDS. For that, we are grateful. We ask the U.S. to continue this leadership with a strong financial commitment to combat the pandemic.

We also urge you to lead the World Bank and IMF to provide deeper debt cancellation for the poorest countries, using those institutions' own resources, to free up money for critical development needs, including HIV-AIDS programs. The United States made a bold commitment to debt relief last year, agreeing to cancel 100% of our loans to heavily-indebted poor countries, and providing $435 million to fund the initiative. The World Bank and IMF, however, agreed to cancel only 30-50% of their debts to these same countries. With only a small portion of their reserves, the World Bank and IMF could write off up to 100% of their debts to the 22 countries currently qualified under the international debt relief program, freeing $500 million each year in debt service for health and other needs, without need for additional appropriations.

These requests come with the knowledge that HIV and AIDS continue to carry a heavy burden of stigma in this country and abroad. It can be tempting to point fingers at those affected - some innocent, some not. But as we struggle to deal with our judgement of others, we must be conscious of how our actions - or inaction - will be judged. Can we watch one-quarter of some countries' people die? Can 27 million orphans be left to fend for themselves? We may not be able to solve the entire problem today, but let us not be discouraged from taking the steps necessary to begin the journey. We simply cannot walk on the other side of the path in the face of such suffering. A large international commitment, led by the United States, can stem this humanitarian crisis.

Please be assured of our thanks for your service and our continued prayers as we move forward together in this important work.

Yours sincerely,

The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold

Presiding Bishop and Primate

Episcopal Church, USA


The Right Rev. Henry N. Parsley, Jr.

Bishop of Alabama

The Right Rev. Onell A. Soto

Assistant Bishop of Alabama


The Right Rev. Mark L. MacDonald

Bishop of Alaska


The Right Rev. Robert R. Shahan

Bishop of Arizona


The Right Rev. Larry E. Maze

Bishop of Arkansas


The Right Rev. William E. Swing

Bishop of California

The Right Rev. Richard L. Shimpfky

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The Right Rev. Frederick H. Borsch

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The Right Rev. J. Jon Bruno

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The Right Rev. Chester L. Talton

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(current Ecclesiastical Authority for the Diocese)

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Bishop Suffragan of Maryland


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Bishop Suffragan of Massachusetts

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Bishop Suffragan of Massachusetts

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Bishop of Western Massachusetts

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President and Dean, Episcopal Divinity School


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Bishop of Eastern Michigan

The Right Rev. Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr.

Bishop of Michigan

The Right Rev. James A. Kelsey

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Bishop Coadjutor of Mississippi


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Standing Committee of the Diocese of Montana

(current Ecclesiastical Authority for the Diocese)


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Bishop of Nebraska


The Right Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori

Bishop of Nevada

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The Right Rev. Douglas E. Theuner

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The Right Rev. John P. Croneberger

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The Right Rev. David B. Joslin

Assistant Bishop of New Jersey

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The Right Rev. David C. Bowman

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The Right Rev. Orris G. Walker, Jr.

Bishop of Long Island

The Right Rev. Rodney R. Michel

Bishop Suffragan of Long Island

The Right Rev. Richard F. Grein

Bishop of New York

The Right Rev. Mark S. Sisk

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The Right Rev. Catherine S. Roskam

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The Right Rev. E. Don Taylor

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