More than 80 million Africans may die from AIDS by 2025, the United Nations said in a report released Friday, and infections could soar to 90 million—or more than 10 percent of the continent’s population—if more isn’t done soon to fight the disease. —The Associated Press
Conservatives love bashing the UN, and their criticisms are not without some justification. Lumbering, wasteful, sometimes corrupt, often slow to respond, the United Nations is everything we’ve come to expect from a huge bureaucracy. In many ways, the UN acts a lot like… the institutional church.
One of the things the UN is getting right is its coordination of a global response to the worldwide AIDS pandemic. President Bush has pledged US support of $15 billion, money which is purchasing drugs for the UN’s Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as providing support for a great many other relief efforts in countries where HIV/AIDS is rampant.
But what about the church? What role are faith-based organizations taking in the fight against this terrible disease?
Though it is not well known, in many developing nations faith-based organizations provide as much as half of the total HIV/AIDS relief. Admirable as this is, even more needs to be done.
In a report released March 4, 2005, UNAIDS looks at three scenarios for the future course of AIDS in Africa and asks, what will the situation look like by the year 2025? The report suggests that if the most aggressive approach is taken, as many as 43 million new HIV infections could be averted on the African continent over the next 20 years. That’s one-sixth of the US population.
In sub-Saharan Africa, about 7.4% of all adults are currently HIV positive, a number that continues to climb. Of the 3.1 million people worldwide who died of AIDS in 2004, more than two-thirds were from this same region. (To download the UNAIDS Powerpoint presentation with the latest global HIV/AIDS statistics, click here.)
Extreme poverty, poor public health, civil war and population displacement, inadequate education and many other factors are contributing to the wildfire spread of HIV in Africa. The most effective treatment at present is a “cocktail” of anti-retroviral drugs costing about $10,000 annually per person in the US. Such drugs were priced out of the reach of third-world countries, until just recently.
The GlaxoSmithKline and Boehringer Ingelheim pharmaceutical companies, developers of these important drugs, recently licensed Aspen pharmaceuticals of South Africa to produce a generic version, for distribution in third-world nations only. There is hope that Aspen may be able to sell these drugs for less than $400 per person per year.
Drug manufacturers are often criticized for their prices by those who have little grasp of the enormous costs involved in drug development, testing and approval. Glaxo and Boehringer are to be congratulated for their compassionate response to what is an unprecedented worldwide health crisis. (Full disclosure: I have two very close friends who work for GlaxoSmithKline, one of whom is a research chemist involved in the process of testing and proving drug compounds. Neither these friends nor any representative of GlaxoSmithKline have contributed in any way to this post.)
The health scourge of Jesus’ day was leprosy, a disease that had many similarities to AIDS. Sufferers were treated as social pariahs. The disease was incurable, communicable, and led inevitably to a painful death.
Jesus’ response, as with everything else he did, was rather remarkable.
In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he fell to the ground, face down in the dust, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you want to, you can make me well again.”
Jesus reached out and touched the man. “I want to,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. Then Jesus instructed him not to tell anyone what had happened. He said, “Go right to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy, so everyone will have proof of your healing.” Yet despite Jesus’ instructions, the report of his power spread even faster, and vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases. —Luke 5:12-15, NLT
Jesus touched the leper, and in that touch there was not just healing, but kindness, mercy, compassion and the peace of God. The world’s HIV/AIDS sufferers are in need of that same compassionate and healing touch in our time.
The church is arguably the most influential player in the worldwide fight against AIDS, especially in the highly religious third-world. The church and faith-based organizations have unique access into the homes and hearts of men and women. Faith institutions have the trust and influence needed to revolutionize the social attitudes that are responsible for the continuation of this epidemic.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is transformational. It has the power to lift Africa up from the dust of its suffering.
Because AIDS is killing so many young men and women, it has made orphans of thousands of children. A number of organizations are focusing their efforts on these abandoned children, notably Hope HIV, Christ’s Hope, and Dream for Africa.
The AIDS statistics are simply staggering. But God is not overwhelmed. His church is reaching down to lift suffering people up from the dust of their hopelessness. How will you help?