|Hope after AIDS|
|Written by John Chaplin|
It is 30 years since the discovery of the HIV virus, and John Chaplin, AIM’s AIDS Consultant, talks about the organisation’s involvement in tackling the epidemic.
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There have been big changes in the AIDS field over the last five years. People suffering from the virus can expect to live longer thanks to antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), and the six million people now on ARVs have a better quality of life. It has also been demonstrated to markedly reduce the risk of spreading the disease. Circumcision has been shown to reduce transmission by about 50% and an ARV gel looks to be almost as good. 50% of HIV positive pregnant women are taking medication to help prevent HIV being transmitted to their baby. There is a 25% decline of new infections in 22 countries in sub Saharan Africa, especially among the youth.
The flip side
All good news but 30 million have already died of AIDS, a further 33 million are presently infected and there are about 15 million orphans as a result of AIDS. Millions more need to be on ARVs, yet funding is static and no more can be given the treatment. Many infected people do not know their status and so only start treatment late when they are already ill. Too many babies are still being infected and most will not access treatment, many dying before reaching two years old.
AIM recognises that anyone working in sub Saharan Africa is likely to be confronted with AIDS and its impact, so whatever ministry they are involved in they are encouraged to think AIDS. We also realise that the church is ideally placed to respond to the challenge of AIDS in many communities and our role is to act as catalysts to encourage and train church members in an effective AIDS response, looking at issues such as stigma, family life, sexuality and gender issues.
Much of the health care in Africa is provided by faith based groups. AIM is involved in some of this, such as Kijabe Hospital in Kenya, with its effective AIDS programme, which includes community-run support groups for HIV positive people; the Church is also involved in this. Walking with people through their illness gives great opportunities to share the Gospel and many are coming to a vibrant faith in Christ. For example, AIM has helped churches in DR Congo and Lesotho establish such support groups to educate, encourage testing, to start and continue treatment. On Lake Victoria community health volunteers are working with the fishing community, teaching about HIV and other health issues, but also sharing the love of Christ. Many churches have been planted over the years through this work.
Spreading the word
AIM has helped mobilise churches in many countries to teach about AIDS. Bible colleges where AIM is involved are encouraged to teach their students about AIDS; for instance, at Moffat Bible College in Kenya, there is a practical element allowing students to go into local primary schools and teach about the life skills needed to avoid AIDS. Others involved in youth in other countries and situations are teaching the same. In Rwanda teachers have been trained to teach these things in a four year curriculum and it is hoped this will be expanded to many other schools. Still others are working with orphans and street children – some whose parents have AIDS or have died from it, others who may be infected themselves.
The work of AIM in this field is multifaceted and has played a strategic role in reducing new infections and the death rate, but more importantly, it has seen many brought into a life changing relationship with Christ with an eternal hope.