Linda Bales Todd is a longtime leader of the United Methodist Global AIDS Committee, a ministry that has been the AIDS-focused initiative in The United Methodist Church for 15 years. We are grateful that she is the latest faith-motivated health advocate to join us for a Five-Question Interview:
- What do you consider the most important work that you and the Global AIDS Committee do?
We aim to save lives and make life better for those living with HIV or AIDS. In response to increasing HIV infections around the world and the Christian mandate for The United Methodist Church to care for the sick, the 2004 UMC General Conference affirmed the formation of the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund (UMGAF).
Our roles, at that time, were to educate United Methodists about the HIV pandemic, advocate for just legislative AIDS policies at all levels of society and mobilize funding for AIDS efforts around the globe. These roles were/are carried out by a dedicated group of persons who bring their passion and experience to the table. In 2016, the UMC General Board of Global Ministries assumed the role of funder for UMGAF, and our name was changed to the United Methodist Global AIDS Committee with a focus exclusively on education and advocacy.
Convening educational forums, as well as sharing educational and advocacy information through the AIDS Network, our web page and Facebook, has expanded the knowledge about HIV within the United Methodist family and beyond.
- What motivates you personally to do this work?
My first experience with HIV was in the early 1990’s when I served as a facilitator for Dayton, Ohio’s AIDS Task Force in their strategic planning process. During that stint, AIDS became real to me through learning about the disease and hearing the stories of people living with HIV or AIDS. At that time, people with AIDS were dying in horrific numbers. The realities of AIDS infections outside the United States were also becoming more known.
God’s call on my life to be in ministry with and for the marginalized was strong and enduring. In 2001, I took a position with the UMC General Board of Church & Society in Washington, DC to serve as an advocate for women and children. HIV was at the top of my list, given the alarming increases in HIV in women and children in the U.S. and globally. In many cases, women, children and men were innocent victims due to the lack of education, testing and treatment. It was during this time I became involved with UMGAC.
Working with others to stem the tide of AIDS is a privilege and motivating in itself. Seeing God through the eyes of persons living with the virus has strengthened my faith and understanding of the disease.
- What are the biggest challenges you and those you advocate for face?
Three factors are uppermost in the ongoing battle against HIV & AIDS: complacency, stigma and discrimination.
Complacency: The UMC is an international denomination with most members residing in the United States. Life spans of those living with HIV in the United States have significantly increased due to the availability of drug treatment. HIV is now considered a “manageable disease” by the medical community and society in general. This shift has lowered the level of urgency in the minds of many people; therefore, support for AIDS efforts has diminished both in society and in the UMC itself as evidenced, in part, by diminished financial support for UMGAC’s ministry.
One tragic consequence, however, is that AIDS infections in specific U.S. populations, namely African Americans and Hispanics, have increased over the past several years, which should compel the church to expand its AIDS ministries.
Stigma: Stigma is one reason for these increased rates. In spite of AIDS education in schools, churches and the medical community, myths about AIDS continue to exist. As a result, shame causes people to resist testing or seek treatment.
Discrimination: Legal discriminatory practices across sectors create fear among people who are living with HIV and/or those needing to be tested. Some countries impose death sentences on people living with HIV or AIDS. Housing and employment discrimination continue. Homophobia results in discrimination. All of these factors lead to higher infection and mortality rates.
- What do you think the U.S. and global healthcare systems should look like?
I believe health care is a right of all persons. All people need access to AIDS testing and treatment as well as compassionate care and protection. The United Methodist Church actively supports the Affordable Healthcare Act, even though our official position affirms single-payer. This is my position. We, as a nation, need to move beyond a profit-driven health care system to one that provides equitable and affordable health care for all. ( http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/health-care-for-all-in-the-united-states)
Fortunately, significant strides have been made in the availability of treatment globally, but millions still lack access. As with other societal issues, our budgetary priorities in the United States and other nations place too much emphasis on militarism rather than social welfare. This is regrettable because when populations in any country are ill, security is impacted.
- What role do you see people of faith and faith communities playing in making the needed changes?
Millions of people participate in faith communities that affirm the sacred worth of all God’s children. In order to ensure that worth, we need to show magnanimous love by tipping the scales of justice toward love rather than violence. Every person of faith can educate themselves and others about HIV/AIDS, challenge unjust policies, pray for people living with HIV or AIDS, financially support AIDS organizations and extend grace and love to those persons infected with and affected by HIV or AIDS.
For more information about the United Methodist Global AIDS Committee, check out their website here.
Faith and Healthcare Notes
“Health Insurers Won't Pay for a $2.1 Million Drug for Kids, And Parents Say They're Running Out of Time.” Is there any more damning indictment of our current healthcare system than the headline of this Business Insider story about Zolgensma, the drug for children's spinal muscular atrophy which Novartis has priced at over $2 million?
“Turning 26 Is A Potential Death Sentence For People With Type 1 Diabetes In America.” OK, perhaps the headline for this Buzzfeed News story is worse. “The first month [of medication] alone could be $1,000 or even more,” said Louis Philipson, director of the University of Chicago Kovler Diabetes Center, who noted that high-deductible plans mean those dollars come out of the pockets of even those patients who can afford insurance. “It breaks budgets, it forces people into untenable situations: You have to choose between rent and insulin.”
Why Do Lawmakers Continue to Allow This to Happen? A clue comes in the second quarter reports of industry lobbying expenses, as reported by Axios’ Bob Herman. The pharmaceutical industry’s association, PhRMA, spent over $6 million on lobbying in just those three months, and the health insurance professional organization and some individual pharma and insurance companies spent over $2 million more. But advocates are pushing back, especially our friends at patient-led T1International, who will conduct a vigil outside of pharma corporation Eli Lilly headquarters on September 14th. Click here for more information.