Fund raising for AIDS related ministries and programs is increasingly difficult. It seems that the battle against AIDS is no longer covered by the mainstream media and has largely disappeared from public consciousness. The organization for which I work, Canadian Baptist Ministries, is forced to consider reducing funding to Guardians of Hope programs in Rwanda, Kenya, and India. The Guardian groups meet in local churches to provide support for people living with HIV and AIDS, to work on AIDS education and prevention, and to care for the needs of AIDS orphans.
The most recent statistics on AIDS show that the crisis has not gone away. The rate for new HIV infections among adults remains stubbornly high at 1.9 million per year. There has been no decrease globally since 2010. While we may celebrate the regional success in Eastern and Southern Africa (new infections among adults has dropped by 14% over the past five years) we should be alarmed at the spike in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In that region the annual infection rate among adults has climbed by 57% in the same period. Antiretroviral therapy extends the life span of people living with HIV. I am grateful that 54% of adults with AIDS in Eastern and Southern Africa receive ARV drugs. However, the long-term impact of these medicines is becoming apparent.
I often reflect on our visit to a Guardians of Hope group in the Gisenyi region of Rwanda. There must have been at least sixty people from the local group that came out to meet us. Regine (my wife) and I were surprised that about one-third of the members were not infected with HIV. They had joined the Guardians as an expression of solidarity and compassion for neighbors living with AIDS. The group made a special request for a small amount of additional funding in order to purchase plastic basins and rubber gloves. Someone explained that most people died of AIDS alone in their homes covered by excrement and bodily fluids. Member of the Guardians of Hope group had the practice of visiting the homes of the dying, gently washing their bodies, dressing them in clean clothing, and transporting them to the local hospital. They died with dignity and with the love of God’s people around them.
I try to remind myself that each person with AIDS is created in the image of God and loved by God. In areas where HIV-AIDS is prevalent, each teenager has the capacity to live a full and meaningful life in service to God and the community around them. This battle, fought with love, compassion, and stubborn dedication, is not over. I need to learn from my sisters and brothers in Gisenyi.