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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Obama Talk AIDS Crisis With Churchgoers

Individuals and the U.S. government continue to have responsibilities to fight against HIV and AIDS, a Democratic senator and potential 2008 presidential candidate recently told an evangelical group.

"We are all sick because of AIDS -- and we are all tested by this crisis. It is a test not only of our willingness to respond, but of our ability to look past the artificial divisions and debates that have often shaped that response," says Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. "When you go to places like Africa and you see this problem up close, you realize that it's not a question of either treatment or prevention -- or even what kind of prevention -- it is all of the above."

Obama spoke at the 2006 Global Summit on AIDS and the Church at the Saddleback Church Campus in Lake Forest, Calif., at the invitation of famed pastor Rick Warren.

The matter, Obama says, is not an issue of either science or values, but rather both together.

"Yes, there must be more money spent on this disease. But there must also be a change in hearts and minds; in cultures and attitudes. Neither philanthropist nor scientist; neither government nor church, can solve this problem on their own -- AIDS must be an all-hands-on-deck effort," he says.

Foremost in the fight must to be to stop new infections, says Obama, who joined the US Senate in 2005. Obama has said he is considering running for the Democratic nomination for president.

"Now, too often, the issue of prevention has been framed in either/or terms. For some, the only way to prevent the disease is for men and women to change their sexual behavior -- in particular, to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage," he says. "For others, such a prescription is unrealistic; they argue that we need to provide people with the tools they need to protect themselves from the virus, regardless of their sexual practices -- in particular, by increasing the use of condoms, as well as by developing new methods, like microbicides, that women can initiate themselves to prevent transmission during sex."

In the debate surrounding how we should tackle the scourge of AIDS, people often see each side questioning the other's motives, and impeding progress, Obama observes.

"For me, this is a false argument. Let me say this -- I don't think we can deny that there is a moral and spiritual component to prevention -- that in too many places all over the world where AIDS is prevalent -- including our own country, by the way -- the relationship between men and women, between sexuality and spirituality, has broken down, and needs to be repaired," he says.

This was particularly true, Obama says, as he traveled through South Africa and Kenya.

"Again and again, I heard stories of men and women contracting HIV because sex was no longer part of a sacred covenant, but a mechanical physical act; because men had visited prostitutes and brought the disease home to their wives, or young girls had been subjected to rape and abuse," he says.


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