CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Singing against the stigma of AIDS

HONG KONG (SE): “According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, increased access to services has resulted in a 15 per cent reduction in new infections,” the manager of the St. John’s Cathedral HIV Education Centre, Elijah Fung, said at a charity concert held in the Anglican cathedral on November 12.

She added that over the past five years there has actually been a 22 per cent decline in AIDS-related deaths worldwide.

But that was the end of the good news. Fung related, “In Hong Kong, according to data released by the Centre for Health Protection… the cumulative total of HIV infections had reached 6,045 by the second quarter of 2013. The record high number of cases has shown that AIDS is still a major public health concern for Hong Kong.”

Fung said that although medical treatment has come a long way in past decades, the stigma attached to AIDS and discriminatory attitudes in general society towards its victims are highly problematic.

Father Des Cox opened the evening by lighting a candle, with the words, “We light a fire of Christ. Christ, a symbol of hope.” 

He then prayed that Hong Kong and the whole world can achieve a zero stigma level towards victims of AIDS.

“May we wash out the stigma across the world!” he prayed. He quoted Archbishop Justin Welby as saying that we think the stigma has gone, but it has not.

“And it is tragic and happens everywhere,” the archbishop of Canterbury said.

As he lit the candle of hope, Father Cox said, “Without hope, education, understanding and a dream, we cannot make progress. But the candle is a sign that the light can dispel the darkness and that goodness is stronger than evil. We believe we can wipe out the stigma.”

The St. John’s HIV Education Centre is the only such faith-based facility in Hong Kong and works to raise public concern about AIDS in the wider society, promoting prevention and public education, especially among young people, women and ethnic minorities on appropriate sexual knowledge.

It also crosses the boundaries of culture and faith, and is involved in developing education programmes with the Catholic Church in Africa, as well as people of other faith traditions across Asia and South America.

In thanking the 300 or so people who attended the concert, which featured the Hong Kong Welsh Male Voice Choir, with entertaining interludes from the South Island School Chamber Orchestra and Choir, Fung said that the evening had raised $90,000 towards funding their work.

The centre does not receive government funding and relies on donations from the community to continue its work. Regular donors were thanked during the evening, including foundation supporter, Anne Marden, who put up a significant amount to allow the centre to open its doors in 1990.

Jessica Wong, who has just completed a stretch as an intern with the centre, described her time as a wonderful experience and time of learning.

“The centre is an excellent platform for me to know more about HIV/AIDS prevention, through participating in different kinds of events and projects.”

She added, “My internship has inspired me a lot about the importance of public education. I think it is meaningful to prepare useful teaching materials about sex education for primary and secondary school students, as the knowledge and information will be very useful for them when they grow into adulthood.”

She said that her time with the centre has left her with a taste for public education and she now wants to develop a career in that field.

Fung described the ultimate aim of the centre as bringing hope to people of different walks of life in the fight to combat the affects of HIV/AIDS, and especially in the creation of a non-discriminatory society for those who have to live with the infection.

She added that to this day, anyone with AIDS is forced to carry the tag of sexually promiscuous, which reflects a basic ignorance in society about the manner in which the infection is transmitted.


“Because of the public’s misunderstanding towards the needs of infected patients, the patients feel isolated by society and are unwilling to seek help from others,” she concluded.

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