Whited Sepulchers
moiv printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Jun 27, 2006 at 03:31:29 AM EST
Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe award-winning film Sex, Needles and Roubles spotlights the catastrophic rise of HIV infection in Russia.

Russia has the fastest growing HIV infection rate in the world. An epidemic that, ten years ago, could have been relatively easily contained, is now threatening to engulf the country. But how has the crisis reached such alarming proportions? Sex, Needles and Roubles takes us on a journey to the cold winter nights of St. Petersburg, where we meet some of its young drug-addicted prostitutes. Through poignant real-life stories and interviews with corrupt policemen-pimps and discriminating doctors, the scale of Russia's problem slowly shifts into focus.
[M]any politicians, like Moscow's Mayor, Yuri Lushov, oppose [needle exchange] programmes. Other specialists implicitly welcome the HIV epidemic as a biological solution to a social problem.
Many suspect a more sinister motive behind opposition to helping addicts. Currently, Russia's annual health budget only covers the cost for treatment for 500 AIDS patients. In 2007, there will be an estimated 7 million. "The distinction between those who should be treated and those who can be treated will create very serious problems," warns government critic Vadim Pokrovski.
As long as influential politicians are reluctant to work with NGOs, needle exchange programmes closed down and little money spent on education, HIV will continue to spread unrestrained among the Russian population.

And why isn't $34.2 million in U.S. assistance making more of a difference?  

After all, even though eighty percent of HIV-positive Russians are between the ages of 15 and 29, the Bush administration could have spent only so much supplying posters, mountain bikes and rollerblades for a two week USAID campaign urging Russian teens to "Be Faithful to Your Love."

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Last September, Christian Today reported a somewhat belated move by the Russian Orthodox Church toward recognition of the world's fastest-growing HIV population.

As part of the new programme, the Church will work side by side with HIV/AIDS patients and their families offering spiritual guidance. Priests and nuns will also be stationed at in hospitals to offer hands-on help to hospital staff and HIV/AIDS patients, reported the Associated Press.

Priests were urged by Church leaders to treat people infected with HIV/AIDS "as any other person suffering from some serious illness" and to teach greater tolerance among their congregations for sufferers of the illness.
The Church programme urges control and prevention of the illness by educating people on religious morals as well as refraining from sexual relations with multiple partners and homosexuality.

The alarming growth in people being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in Russia has been attributed to weak anti-drug and prevention programmes. Experts also estimate that the actual number of sufferers of HIV/AIDS is three times official government statistics at more than 1 million.

Predictably enough, Russian evangelicals have responded to the mushrooming HIV crisis with the same U.S.-approved abstinence-only message that is decimating Uganda..

The leading evangelical mission organisation in Russia - Russian Ministries - has recently started a new initiative to spread "Biblical values" and an "anti-drug [and] sexual purity" message among Russian children and youth.
In order to eradicate the root of the AIDS epidemic, the evangelical Russian Ministries tries to make people understand that only the word of God can guide people towards the true way of life and thus protect them from the physical lures of this world. Instead of promoting the use of condoms as a strategy to tackle the spread of AIDS, the ministries will adopt a more fundamental evangelistic plan.

"Our goal is to help teach young people God's plan for sexual purity, ways to resist the allure of illegal drugs, and strategies for how to cope with the many difficulties they are facing in the new Russia since the collapse of Communism," said Sergey Rakhuba, vice president of Russian Ministries.

"We are incorporating biblical values and the anti-drug message into our training programs," President Deyneka added. "We are also working with partner ministries- teaching a `No Apologies' sexual abstinence curriculum as well as translating and distributing Focus on the Family youth-oriented materials."

When James Dobson finishes translating youth materials into Russian, he and the rest of God's favorite children devote some time to making sure that their "pro-family" gospel is dispersed round the world via their participation in the World Congress of Families.  

The WCF is sponsored by The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, founded in 1976 to propagate "the authentic voice of the American Heartland." Allan Carlson, who led the "paleo-conservative" Rockford Institute before founding the Howard Center, began planning the World Congress of Families in 1995.

Ms. Magazine reports that at the gathering of the World Congress of Families in March 2004, all the usual suspects from the  religious right -- Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, Human Life International, Population Research Institute, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute and miscellaneous Bush administration officials -- were joined for the first time by an official delegation from Russia. Russia's attendance must have thrilled CWA president Wendy Wright, who condemned the 2002 CEDAW Committee for suggesting that Russia "strengthen... affordable access to contraceptive measures for all women in all regions" and "include sex education in the school curriculum."

And the reason for Wright's disapproval? "[I]t is disturbing that the Committee consistently urges governments to interfere and exert pressure in personal and cultural issues. Equally disturbing is an international body injecting itself into domestic social and political affairs of sovereign nations." But as the conference's agenda makes clear, it's all right if you're a "Christian."

The conference's theme --"The Natural Family and the Future of Nations: Growth, Development and Freedom"-- sounds benign and uncontroversial; in reality, it's a strategic camouflage for a familiar set of favorite ultraconservative causes: an intolerant version of heterosexuality and marriage that precludes recognition of gay unions, is anti-abortion, anti-contraception and anti-sex education.
The WCF is more than just a meeting place for likeminded conservatives to share their fears about gay marriage and abortion; its objective is to reverse progressive social initiatives on reproductive rights, gay rights and population issues, particularly those negotiated at the United Nations.

That means, for example, trying to undermine programs at agencies such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which promotes family planning, sexual and reproductive rights, sex education and condom use.

Many of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) participating in the World Congress of Families are tied into this loose coalition, and many of them already have consultative status at the U.N., which allows them to attend meetings and lobby policy-makers.

Outside of the U.N. context, the World Congress of Families is targeting specific countries as beachheads for its agenda.

After the second congress, "pro-family" organizations were established in a dozen countries such as Russia, Ireland, the Philippines and Argentina.

Following the second WCF event in Geneva in 1999, "pro-family" organizations were set up in a dozen countries, including Russia. Among over 3,300 delegates to the 2004 World Family Congress was Dr. Anatoli Antonov of Moscow Lomonsov State University, Russia's most prestigious university and research institution.  Antonov edited a recently published Russian edition of Society, Family & Person, whose author -- Allan Carlson, founder and president of WCF sponsor The Howard Center -- he praised as a "a brilliant modern representative" of the "alternative school of American sociology."  

Speakers and delegates to the WCF made their own modern sociological guidelines for national and international family policy abundantly clear, as summarized by Peter Sprigg, senior director of policy studies at the Family Research Council and an FRC representative at WCF.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting"We are against anything that threatens the traditional family or undermines that ideal. We are against parents snuffing out the lives of their own unborn children through abortion. We are against drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and child abuse. We are against illegitimacy, abandonment and divorce. We are against any sexual behavior that would undermine the uniqueness of the faithful, lifelong marriage bond between a husband and wife. We are against premarital sex, pornography, adultery and prostitution. And yes, we are also against the practice of homosexuality."

None of which offers any hope to Russian children with HIV who live in isolation inside locked orphanage cells, or to tens of thousands of drug addicts who risk arrest if they attempt to legally purchase clean needles in pharmacies, and who are denied medical treatment by the Russian government because of their addictions. And obedient to the wishes of the religious right, our own government continues to withhold funds for needle exchange programs that could save their lives.

In March 2004, U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Russia John Beyrle addressed a Moscow meeting of the TransAtlantic Partnership Against AIDS.

"The United States made some critical mistakes in our early response to the spread of HIV-AIDS in our own country.  Too many people mistakenly assumed in the United States in the early 1980s that HIV-AIDS only represented a threat to gay men and intravenous drug users, that it wouldn't affect average American families. But our sad experience showed that they were wrong. Anyone can contract AIDS. And we are determined to see that our friends and partners in Russia do not make this same mistake."

Maybe Mr. Beyrle should repeat that speech to some of the Bush administration's "friends and partners" right here at home. And do it quickly, too, before they catch the next plane for Russia.

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One-year and eight month old Nikita Druzhkov, one of the 37 children housed in a special orphanage for HIV-infected children in St. Petersburg on November 27, 2003.  [Reuters photo]

"For ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones..." Matthew 23:27

[Title graphic from Agencia de Noticias da Aids]


... but this time the "enemy" has a different face.

by moiv on Tue Jun 27, 2006 at 03:44:23 AM EST

In response to the growing rates of HIV infection in Russia, the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing believes that we are called today to see, hear, and respond to the suffering caused by the HIV pandemic, and the related suffering caused by violence and discrimination against women and sexual minorities, and by the commercial exploitation of sexuality. The Institute advocates a faith-based commitment to sexual and reproductive rights which include safe, reliable, and affordable access to information and health care, including voluntary contraception and HIV/STD Prevention and treatment. Measures which limit access to these services are punitive and often based on doub and do nothing to promote moral decision-making. Indeed, programs that teach abstinence exclusively and withhold information about STD prevention fail young people.

For more information, read Rev. Haffner's blog at http://debrahaffner.blogspot.com, or visit the Institute's homepage at www.religiousinstitute.org.

by Religious Institute on Wed Jun 28, 2006 at 01:23:11 AM EST

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