Churches in the District of Columbia now recognize the best way to combat one of the deadliest diseases of the last century is to educate parishioners and work with others in the faith community to affect change, said one prominent minister in the city.
The Rev. Frank Tucker, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Northwest, is a member of the National Black Leadership on AIDS. Tucker, 73, said that the city's churches are moving in the right direction when it comes to combating the spread of HIV/AIDS among residents.
"More and more churches are addressing the AIDS epidemic," Tucker said. "Some churches are testing their members while others are handing out materials on the disease. Pastors are now even speaking about it in their pulpits."
The District received international attention in March 2009 when it was announced that three percent of the city's residents had HIV or AIDS, according to reports from the city's HIV/AIDS office. The rate is the highest in the United States and is higher than some countries in Africa.
As a result of the report, the city's health department has stepped up its efforts to fight the disease by expanding its testing to include schools and job sites, and airing public service announcements on the importance of wearing condoms when having sex and encouraging testing. Tucker said that he's seen an increase in the number of churches sponsoring health fairs to test members for HIV/AIDS, as well as other ailments.
"We are steady pushing the word about the gravity of the problem," said Tucker who lives in Northwest. "We recognize that people are going to have sex, we just want them to do it safely."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta announced in 2011 that the number of senior citizens living with HIV/AIDS is increasing, according to the September 2011 "Aging in Stride" e-newsletter. The e-newsletter said that currently, over 25 percent of all HIV/AIDS patients are over 50.
The publication also reported that experts at the Yale Medical School in New Haven, Conn., project that by 2017, 50 percent of all people in the U.S. living with HIV will be over 50.
Tucker isn't surprised by that information about the rising HIV/AIDS rate among seniors.
"Seniors are having continuous sexual activity," he said. "We are urging more seniors to use protection when they have sex."
The HIV/AIDS crisis has been a problem for the black church in general because some refused to acknowledge and deal with the epidemic that captured the public's attention in the 1980s.
"Some [churches] have certain theological positions that are not supportive of people who have the disease," Tucker said, referring to some who believe that HIV/AIDS is a product of sinful living.
"However, we have all agreed that we have to do something to fight this disease even though our techniques may vary."