(MDG6–Post 2) The Perfect Gift

(Because HIV/AIDS is a topic of such great concern and involvement with our American Baptist missionaries around the world, we are presenting a second blog entry on Millennium Development Goal #6. For the first blog entry on this topic posted two weeks ago, click here.)

giftThe wrappings of Christmas have been put away for several weeks now, but as I review the UN’s Millennium Development Goal for HIV/AIDS, of virtual elimination of maternal-child transmission as well as achieving universal access to treatment, I am poignantly reminded of a Christmas gift story. In 1994, I met Naka and her infant daughter Da on the doorstep of my office, the Health Project for Tribal People (HPTP) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Naka was from the Lahu ethnic minority group. She had come to the HPTP looking for help after she was forced to leave the brothel where she had been working. Naka was HIV-positive, and ill with AIDS-related symptoms, and her 11-month old daughter was sickly as well. Sold into prostitution as a young girl in Burma, Naka had no idea where her home or family might be. Now, kicked out of the brothel, the only place she knew as home, Naka was desperate for shelter and food, which she found at the HPTP’s House of Love. Besides having her physical needs met, Naka also had the care and emotional support from a loving Christian staff, and soon both she and her daughter were thriving. As Christmas approached, the House of Love family began talking about a gift exchange. As she listened, Naka was full of questions, because she had never given a gift nor received a gift in her life. With her new-found understanding of the gift-giving custom, Naka decided she wanted to give her daughter the perfect gift. This mother spent hours looking for just the right present for her daughter, one that would communicate Naka’s love for Da. That same Christmas, with joy, Naka also learned of God’s gift to her, Jesus, and Naka accepted this gift of God’s love.

Without access to AIDS medications, within two short years Naka died, and Da was left parentless at the House of Love. After her mother’s death, Da sat on my lap and asked me, “Why does God want all the mothers in heaven?” Not only had Da lost her own mother, but she had seen each of the HIV-positive mothers at the House of Love die, leaving behind children who were facing their own disease course. I had no answer for this toddler, because in the late 1990’s in northern Thailand, without access to medications for treatment death was the simple reality for the ethnic minority women who were HIV-positive.

Thankfully, today the access to medication is vastly different than fifteen years ago. Da is a healthy, thriving young woman who will finish high school in another month, and then start to pursue a degree in Theology at college. Although HIV-positive herself, she has hope that she can live an abundant life and pursue her dream to become a Bible teacher. And she has seen that mothers can stay healthy too, thanks to the treatments now available for all people in Thailand.

This blog post is part of our series on the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the United Nations as part of the End Poverty 2015 Millennium Campaign. Millennium Development Goal #6 is “Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and Other Diseases.” Please visit www.endpoverty2015.org for more information on the MDGs, including fact sheets and updates on advances on this goal.

medium_brownkimThis blog post is contributed by Kim Brown, missionary with American Baptist Churches USA, serving as the director of the Integrated Ministries for Ethnic Minorities Foundation (IMEMF) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. For more information about Kim Brown and her ministry in Thailand, visit www.internationalministries.org.

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(MDG6) HIV/AIDS–A Shared Burden

AIDSReduction of the disease burden of HIV AIDS in developing countries is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by 189 countries in 2000 to achieve by 2015.

Reducing the burden of AIDS in developing countries where Ann and I have served for the past twenty years is a noble and reachable task. Countries such as Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan (our current assignment) suffer greatly from HIV/AIDS. Reducing the burden of AIDS means not only providing relief and care for those afflicted with the disease but breaching cultural and even religious barriers to prevent the occurrence and spread of this highly endemic and still deadly disease.

Doctors and health workers across the world are typically more adept and comfortable at treatment than prevention. We are ingrained in science and are creatures of habit in our approach to sickness: we make a diagnosis, we confirm it by laboratory testing, we prescribe a treatment and administer a cure. Such a “cookbook” approach serves us well in relieving the suffering of prevalent diseases such as malaria and pneumonia and can save thousands of lives for children afflicted with fever, dehydration, and the like, but no such cure exists for AIDS.

The AIDS disease presents particular challenges: (1) We have drugs to diminish the symptoms but none that will rid the body of the virus; (2) We want to identify people who have the virus and prevent its spread, but many do not want to be tested due to the stigma of the disease and the risk of expulsion from relationships, communities, and even households; (3) The most vulnerable victims are women and children, often the innocent victims of this disease that is most commonly transmitted heterosexually or during birth.

We will continue to provide medicine for those afflicted with HIV/AIDS (when we can find it) and provide care with dignity for those dying from HIV/AIDS. However, to meet the MDG and to make a true impact on the spread of this disease we must focus heavily on prevention.

Medicine and faith are natural allies when it comes to relieving the burden of AIDS. God does not shun the victims of this disease and relieving the guilt and stigma are first steps in whole person care. The church has a role in disseminating messages related to the spread of AIDS and dispelling many of the myths as to how one comes down with the virus. The church can advocate the virtue of remaining true to one’s partner, the importance of volunteer testing and counseling, and even promote screening of pregnant women for whom medicines exist that can prevent the spread of the virus to their unborn children. Most important is the element of touch for those who are afflicted, care for those who are suffering, and hope for those who have given up. The burden of HIV/AIDS is not only placed on those afflicted with the disease, but on those of us who are disease-free and have the means and capacity to love and serve those in need.

This blog post is part of our series on the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the United Nations as part of the End Poverty 2015 Millennium Campaign. Millennium Development Goal #6 is “Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and Other Diseases.” Please visit www.endpoverty2015.org for more information on the MDGs, including fact sheets and updates on advances on this goal.

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This blog post is contributed by Bill and Ann Clemmer, missionaries with American Baptist Churches USA, serving in South Sudan. For more information about the Clemmers and their ministries, visit www.internationalministries.org.