- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu sent a message to the residents of the District and the people of the world for World AIDS Day 2009. A man of the cloth, a humanitarian, an author and a man of letters, the 78-year-old archbishop cautioned: Don’t expose yourself to HIV/AIDS, and don’t stigmatize fellow human beings who have the virus or the disease.

Born in a shantytown called Klerksdrop, near Cape Town, South Africa, Archbishop Tutu has experienced segregation, racism and apartheid at its very worst in Africa’s wealthiest country, which is rich from an abundance of diamonds, iron and oil.

Now, decades later, it is a place filled with the dead and the dying because of HIV/AIDS.

While millions have died, hundreds of thousands are living with AIDS and the stigma and general ignorance that come with having the disease. Babies are born with HIV/AIDS and never have a real chance at life; mothers and fathers are dying, leaving far too many children orphaned, and those who don’t die are castigated.

In recent years, Archbishop Tutu, who famously fought against apartheid and recently was awarded America’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, has turned much of his time and attention to a different cause: the campaign against HIV/AIDS, which is spreading worldwide, running rampant in his home country and causing a pandemic in America’s capital. The archbishop has made appearances around the globe to help raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and its tragic consequences.

The facts bear out his concern: Like South Africa, the District has the highest rate of new HIV/AIDS cases in this country.

In his interview with The Washington Times, Archbishop Tutu sent a message of hope and healing to America and in particular to the District.

“Two things I wish to share with the American people,” he told The Times. “First, we can defeat this scourge. That is the most important thing. We can defeat it in many different ways. The best way though, is not to get it. Not to expose yourself to the possibility of being infected.

“Secondly, we must not allow ourselves to victimize those who are suffering from HIV/AIDS and that we must not stigmatize them. It is a disease. In the past, they would stigmatize people with tuberculosis, TB. Now they have accepted that TB is a disease. HIV is also a disease. It is very, very important that we must not add to the suffering of people who do get infected by stigmatizing them.”

For the past five years, millions of dollars have been raised in South Africa to advance treatment and educate the public on causes and prevention.

According to the FilmContact.com Web site, the fifth annual World Aids Day Gala Concert, held Tuesday at the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town, was the biggest African event commemorating World Aids Day.

The Africa Centre for HIV/AIDS Management at Stellenbosch University has hosted this event since 2005, and it has elevated itself to being the must-attend event of the year. Professor Jan Du Toit, director of the Africa Centre, has realized significant successes with the academic program of the Africa Centre and delights in the cooperation of partnerships in this country and abroad.

Jimmie Earl Perry, producer and director of the event and a South African permanent resident for five years, is a former Broadway performer (including “Cats,” “Miss Saigon,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Dreamgirls”) and director of Educational Theatre and Creative Arts at the Africa Centre, which is a force behind the awareness concerts and prevention campaigns.

He, the archbishop and others say testing is key to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS. In the District, one-third to one-half of residents with HIV do not know their status. D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty created a new campaign - Ask for the Test - to encourage all residents of the District to ask for an HIV test when they visit a doctor.

“Every resident should ask for the test when they visit the doctor so we can make HIV testing a routine part of every checkup,” the mayor said this summer. “Knowing your status is not just about personal health, but ensuring the health of the entire D.C. community by preventing the spread of HIV.”

The $225,000 multimedia public-awareness campaign includes television, radio, print, billboard and Metro ads. The ads show D.C. residents holding signs in their neighborhoods that say, “Ask for the Test.” The ads feature a diverse group of residents - including a minister, heterosexual couples, black women, gay men and a Latino family - to emphasize that HIV does not discriminate.

“We are well into the third decade of this scourge, and it has expanded exponentially and is out of control,” Archbishop Tutu said. “It is beyond a small specific group but has expanded to almost every corner of the globe. In some areas, prevalence continues to rise and will continue to do so for a long time until change comes - more young people will be infected, more orphans will occur. Yet today, still 70 percent of infected people don’t have access to lifesaving therapies.

“Many still face economic deprivation and rejection because of their infection. They don’t have access to basic public-awareness information or simple interventions that will reduce risk.”

Following is the biography of this world-renowned figure, who told The Times that the goal he has set for the coming year is very humble: “I will continue to fight for world peace.”

Segregation was the order of the day in the shantytown where he grew up. He was influenced by the kind gesture of a white South African parish priest who tipped his hat for a South African woman and her young son - the future archbishop and his mother. For young Desmond, that gesture was a nod from God. He would grow to become a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, honored by heads of state around the world.

He was one of 16 awardees honored with the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom. The award was presented at the White House by President Obama for the archbishop’s outstanding worldwide fight for peace and justice.

Mr. Obama said: “With unflagging devotion to justice, indomitable optimism and an unmistakable sense of humor, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu has stirred the world’s conscience for decades. As a man of the cloth, he has drawn the respect and admiration of a diverse congregation. He helped lead South Africa through a turning point in modern history, and with an unshakable humility and firm commitment to our common humanity, he helped heal wounds and lay the foundation for a new nation. Desmond Tutu continues to give voice to the voiceless and bring hope to those who thirst for freedom.”

The archbishop has won numerous other honors:

In 1984, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to that cause.

In 1985, he was elected bishop of Johannesburg.

In 1986, then-Bishop Tutu was elevated to archbishop of Cape Town, and in that capacity, he did much to bridge the chasm between black and white Anglicans in South Africa. As archbishop, he became a principal mediator and conciliator in the transition to democracy in South Africa.

In 1995, President Nelson Mandela appointed him chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a panel set up to investigate gross human rights violations that had occurred under apartheid.

In 1996, shortly after his retirement as archbishop, he was granted the honorary title of Archbishop Emeritus.

Archbishop Tutu has held several distinguished academic and world leadership posts as well. He was elected a fellow of King’s College in London; president of the All Africa Conference of Churches, London; chancellor of the University of the Western Cape; William R. Cannon Professor of Theology at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta; visiting professor at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.; visiting scholar in residence at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville; and visiting professor of post-conflict studies at King’s College.

He has received many prizes and awards in addition to the Nobel and Presidential Medal, most notably the Order for Meritorious Service Award (Gold), presented by Mr. Mandela; the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Award for Outstanding Service to the Anglican Communion; the Prix d’Athene (Onassis Foundation); the Family of Man Gold Medal Award; the Mexican Order of the Aztec Medal (Insignia Grade); the Martin Luther King Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize; the Sydney Peace Prize; the Gandhi Peace Prize; and the 2008 J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding in 2008, among others.

He holds honorary degrees from more than 130 renowned universities, including Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia, Yale, Emory, the Ruhr, Kent, Aberdeen, Sydney, Fribourg (Switzerland), Cape Town, Witwatersrand, and the University of South Africa.

Though his vigorous advocacy of social justice once rendered him a controversial figure, today he is regarded as an elder world statesman with a major role to play in reconciliation and as a leading moral voice. He has become an icon of hope far beyond the church and southern Africa.

The archbishop is chairman of the Elders, an independent group of influential people chosen for their outstanding integrity, courage and proven ability to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems. The Elders use their varied backgrounds and collective skills to be catalysts for peace and to address global human rights issues.

Archbishop Tutu has battled on the side of human rights in all manner of foreign affairs - from his own homeland to Rwanda, to the Middle East and beyond. His battle against HIV/AIDS is a global one. He says no matter the geopolitics of the fight, the purpose remains the same: to end human suffering.

“This is not the time for complacency nor apathy,” the archbishop said. “It is the time for compassionate leadership that recognizes that the voiceless are often those who suffer most. Who can they turn to if their leaders do not listen and heed their cries?”

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