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World AIDS Day Focuses on Children

by Linda Bloom

November 12, 1997

When Richard Cory's son, Alex, was seven years old, he asked his father if he had AIDS.

"I have made it a point never to lie to my son, so I told him he did," Cory, a United Methodist from Chesapeake, Va., recalled recently. "It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do."

Alex, now 11, is one of the estimated one million children under the age of 15 who are living with HIV. They are the focus of this year's World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.

The 1996 United Methodist General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body, passed a resolution encouraging its members to observe World AIDS Day each year.

They are encouraged to organize special programs on HIV/AIDS education, conduct worship services focusing on intercessory and healing prayer, hope in God and love and compassion and collect offerings for the Advance Special for HIV/AIDS Ministries, No. 982215-6.

Cory's account of his "Life with Alex" can be found on the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries web site (http://gbgm.umc.org). He also is the parent's discussion forum operator on the Computerized AIDS Ministries Bulletin Board, a ministry of the board's Health and Relief Unit.

Cory's wife, Catherine, unknowingly was infected with HIV from a blood transfusion she was given after Alex's birth. It is presumed that Alex was infected when she breast-fed him.

Since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, according to the World Health Organization, well over two million HIV-infected children under the age of 15 have been born to HIV-infected mothers and hundreds of thousands of children have acquired the virus from blood transfusions or through sex.

Because the infection often progresses quickly to full-blown AIDS in children, many of those infected already have died. In 1996, for example, 350,000 of the 1.5 million people who died of AIDS were children under the age of 15.

Until recent hospitalizations, Alex has had a "fairly normal" childhood, according to Cory. But he and his wife had to deal with ignorance and hatred because of his HIV status, including the fact that Alex was refused admission to several day care centers and two different schools, one run by a Catholic church and the other by a Protestant church.

Cory believes the community of faith needs to respond to the HIV/AIDS crisis by providing both practical and frank education on the risk behaviors associated with infection and the spiritual support needed for a meaningful life.

"Though the church may not be able to save the lives of these people, they certainly can provide a source of spiritual support that could lead them to an even greater gift ... the gift of faith that could lead to eternal life," Cory writes in "Life with Alex."

Cory's own faith was restored after a nearly 20-year absence from the church. "The example set by people ministering to my family as we learned to live with AIDS has led me back to God," he writes. "I know this is the greatest gift I could receive and, I know now, that this is the greatest gift I have to offer."

Materials for World AIDS Day are available each year from the World Health Organization, the Board of Global Ministries' Health and Relief Unit and the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.