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.
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.