30 November 2007

World AIDS Day - December 1, 2007

On December 1, St Sebastians Inclusive Church joins with other organizations around the world to advocate for a stronger global response to HIV and AIDS.

"I have set before you life and death…; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live." – Deuteronomy 30: 19

By the end of 2005, 25 million people had died due to AIDS, 40 million were living with HIV, and an estimated 15 million were orphaned. This presents an immense challenge to the international community. But we are not without choices. We can "choose life", mobilizing the necessary resources and political will to address the issues that contribute to the spread of AIDS.

The AIDS pandemic is an affront to the dignity of humanity made in God's image. Silence is not an option. In our words and actions, may we " choose life" that all God's people may live.

2007 is the 26th anniversary of the identification of "AIDS"-Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Although 25 million people have died since AIDS was first recognized in 1981, it is not necessarily a death sentence for those living in the industrialized world.

Most of them have access to antiretroviral drugs that prolong life, as well as clean water, proper nutrition and a functioning health care system. People in the Global South do not have such access. In 2005, 1.5 % of HIV-positive North Americans died due to AIDS. In Africa 10% did.

AIDS is on the increase in most areas of the world. Women and children are the most vulnerable groups being infected. Poverty and profit prevents us from making much progress to stop this disease. Where there are high HIV rates there are high debts to the World Bank, causing severe obstacles to the provision of 2

life-saving health care and educational services needed to roll back the AIDS epidemic. Surely African countries qualify for debt relief.

Antiretroviral medicines prolong life for persons with AIDS. While they are not a cure, ARVs have ensured longer lives for people who have access to them. ARV treatment is expensive but it doesn't have to be. Competition from generic manufacturers in India has caused the prices to be lowered. Now non-profit foundations are able to buy ARVs at a lower price. The bottom line is: profits get in the way of saving lives. There are drug patents and exclusive marketing rights that get in the way of drug distribution. Cheaper drugs do little for the poor in developing countries when they have no money. Even a few euros a day is often impossible.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with you. What can you do about the drugs being inaccessible to millions of people dying of AIDS?

You can lobby your government. Write a letter to the Prime Minister or President. Ask your MP,Councillors and those in Government why drugs are not available to all people

Leaders must be accountable for the commitments made for funding and support.

More than five out of six people who need antiretrovirals do not have access to them – that is 5.5 million people.

I repeat, silence is not an option. We need to speak out!

1,700 children are infected with HIV every day. 90% of newly infected children are babies born to HIV-positive women. The virus may be passed to the child during delivery, and may occur through breastfeeding. If drugs were provided to the mothers before delivery, this could be prevented. In North America these drugs are administered. Are African babies not as precious?

The HIV and AIDS crisis has a disproportionate impact on women and girls. They may be aware of the factors that put them at risk of infection, but have very little power to reduce their vulnerability. Their lack of economic power puts them at 3

risk for sexual exploitation and violence, and forces them into prostitution. Once infected, women face discrimination in public as well as within their families.

AIDS has completely changed family life.

By 2010, an estimated 25 million children worldwide will have lost one or both parents due to HIV and AIDS. Children living with sick and dying parents will be forced to drop out of school to work or to care for younger siblings. What is their future? They have no education and no money.

I have a story of Mary Nyhosa, aged 14. She now heads her household because her parents died of AIDS. Every day, Mary sees her younger sister and brother cry from hunger but there's no money to buy food. When they are sick she cannot go to the hospital because they cannot pay the user fees. So Mary has decided to sell her body on the streets as a prostitute. This is how she makes money to feed her family. How soon will it be before she contracts AIDS?

There are children bringing up children. There are grandparents caring for numerous children, some of whom have AIDS. There are fields not being cultivated because there is no one to do the planting. There is no one with the skills of cultivating, planting and harvesting. They have died before they could teach these skills to their children.

God's children are dying of AIDS. If you listen, you can hear the voice of a young African girl – a young girl with the AIDS virus. She is calling out, asking us to notice her, to hear her. She speaks for millions of others. Can you see one orphan after another trying to find food, to provide for younger siblings? Children are crying and there is no one to dry their tears.

Who will help them?

Who will provide grief counseling?

Who will organize the funerals?

Who will nurse the sick and dying?

Who will teach the children to brush their hair?

Who will make their clothes?

Who will tuck them in at night?

Who will be trained as teachers, preachers, bakers, farmers, nurses?

We can no longer deny the reality, the truth, the Body of Christ has AIDS, and the global village has AIDS. The churches are living with HIV and AIDS. God's children are dying of AIDS. As people of faith, we have done much, and yet there is much we have avoided.

I believe that the work we have started with St Sebastians over the past two years globally and the work that I as a priest in Gran Canaria that is openly working to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, and has experienced the heartbreak of a partner who has died from AIDS just 4 years ago, have broken the silence and worked on making this our problem, rather than their problem."

Silence is not an option. May we "choose life" that all God's people may live.

In the face of this, it is hard to believe we can make a difference. However, It is possible. Don't let AIDS fatigue set in.

We tire of reading articles about the devastation. What do we do?

In the face of this disaster we feel small, powerless and hopeless. How does one person make a difference?

Remember, God's love can transform human life into fullness. God is calling us to see more fully than ever before that we are one world family, one creation, brothers and sisters. Our lives are interwoven. We must see a vision of hope, and a God who longs for us to open our eyes and work together.

We must work to change laws so medicine can be made affordable and available worldwide. We must speak for justice as we educate others about AIDS. We must be a window through which God's love can be seen.

It is time to accept that even one AIDS related death is one too many.

Inclusive churches have responded by acting out of compassion and for justice. This includes education, fundraising, and advocacy. We must act, we must pray, and we must give.

I believe that as a growing international Christian Communuity we should be creating a specialist fund aimed specifically at supporting programmes that will make a difference. The objective is for a generation without AIDS.

There are programs and partners in Mozambique, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania,

They include HIV and AIDS centers, educating young people on trains, training centers for home-based care workers, teaching about nutrition, and the organization of a Credit Union.

As I read another chapter in "Race Against Time", written by my hero, Stephen Lewis, he showed me a glimpse of what might be.

"I believe to the depths of my being that Africa will one day rejoice in a time when families are whole and funerals are rare. It's just so bitter that such multitudes of lives are being lost along the way. It's hard not to be in a near stupor of anger. And yet I'm sustained, as so many Africans are, by the memories of what the continent used to be, and the conviction that the present will one day reunite with the best of the past."

On this World AIDS Day, in this season of Advent, God grant us and our world the courage to open our eyes, reach out our hands, and speak of God's mighty works.


Revd Father Paul Gibson BA, DD{Hons}Cert.Pm,
Founder of the International Inclusive Community of St Sebastians


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