|Eugene Collins, Pierre Manya, Simeon Kashala and Rev. Fred Wideman|
A recent visit made to the Louisiana Conference by two Congolese doctors working in HIV/AIDS clinics in Africa shed light on the struggles faced in the global fight against the killer disease.
“The doctors gave me--a seasoned public health professional--a new outlook. Seeing the work they did in a war zone, and often by motorcycle, has taught me that complaining is not the answer,” said Eugene Collins, Region 2 Coordinator for Louisiana’s Office of Public Health STD/HIV program.
Collins accompanied Drs. Pierre Manya and Simeon Kashala on a tour of the conference which included presentations at local United Methodist churches, speaking to civic organizations, appearing before the Baton Rouge city council, and visiting Louisiana agencies working to increase awareness, education and services to combat the growth of HIV/AIDS. During their stay, the two doctors also assisted Collins with a field HIV/AIDS testing exercise.
The visit and related events were sponsored by the Louisiana Annual Conference, the HIV/AIDS Alliance for Region Two, Family Services of Greater Baton Rouge and other faith communities.
“Drs. Manya and Kashala are faithful men committed to fighting the killer diseases of poverty--HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. They work in challenging settings each and every day bringing hope to a people in need of hope,” said Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, Episcopal leader of the Louisiana Conference.
“The doctors made reference to all of the services our state has in place for the fight against HIV/AIDS. Often, we feel we don't have enough. Hearing from Drs. Manya and Kashala about how few resources they work with leads me to say that we should appreciate what we have, because others may have far less,” said Eugene Collins.
He also expressed his appreciation for the involvement of the United Methodist churches of Louisiana in the statewide efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. “The impact of the church in this fight is huge. Having such a large group like The United Methodist Church join this fight adds validity to the work that we do with the Office of Public Health.”
The strong interest exhibited by Louisiana’s United Methodists in the HIV/AIDS pandemic stems in part from alarming statistics about the disease and the city of Baton Rouge, the state’s capital. According to 2011 data from the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, Baton Rouge has the highest per capita rate of new AIDS cases nationally. New Orleans, roughly 80 miles southeast of the state’s capital, ranks fourth in new cases.
“The Louisiana Conference has taken a deep interest in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Since our inaugural testing event launched in the fall of 2009, United Methodist churches statewide have expanded testing efforts and have continued to hold World AIDS Day events. The conference has also developed a manual and DVD which allows us to share the system we have developed for hosting testing events, making the process easier for other conferences,” said Margaret Johnson, chair of the Louisiana Conference Global Health Initiative. Johnson added that the manual and DVD were created with the assistance of a grant provided by the Domestic HIV/AIDS Fund for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
Recognized by the denomination for its efforts, the Louisiana Annual Conference received one of five inaugural United Methodist Global AIDS Leadership Awards during the third international Lighten the Burden Conference in October of 2010.