- 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.”

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