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It’s Time to Act Against AIDS

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The Mennonite Central Committee volunteer introduced me to several staff and patients at the Missionaries of Charity hospice in Nairobi, Kenya. Many patients were dying of AIDS.

My guide gave me a “heads up” before the next introduction. I was going to meet a 16-year-old girl in the last stages of AIDS. The MCCer explained that the girl had been sold into prostitution by her destitute parents when she was 11. Now she lay in her bed in the fetal position. She did not say anything. Perhaps she could not.

The MCCer spoke gentle words to her and wept. Though I cannot remember the girl’s name, five years later her image is still etched in my mind.

AIDS can be a troubling issue for people of faith because sexual promiscuity is the main reason for its spread. Yet many AIDS sufferers were innocent or unwilling sexual partners. Globally, 90 percent of AIDS infections were transmitted through sexual intercourse between men and women. Women and children actually form a slight majority of those with the AIDS virus.

In many places, social expectations, economic dependency and physical threats make it almost impossible for women and girls to deny men sex.

Wives cannot prevent their husbands’ promiscuity or even demand protective measures. In some countries, the rape of children is increasing because infected men believe intercourse with a virgin will cure AIDS.

Forty million people are infected with the AIDS virus, and 3 million died in 2001. More people will die of AIDS over the next decade than were killed in all the wars of the 20th century. Several countries have a 10 percent HIV-positive population rate – or more.

One-third of Botswana’s adults have the AIDS virus. One-fourth of the adult population of South Africa are infected. AIDS is destroying families, casting whole communities deeper into poverty and destabilizing entire countries.

Health experts estimate that between $10 billion and $15 billion a year is needed to successfully counter AIDS. But poor countries simply do not have this kind of money. They need help from the affluent countries.

Congress voted $778 million for the 2002 U.S. contribution to global AIDS programs. By comparison, U.S. military spending for 2002 was well over $300 billion. We can do better. Based on its share of the world’s wealth, the United States ought to contribute at least $2.5 billion each year for global AIDS-prevention and treatment.

Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). The love of Christ extends to the good and evil alike (Matt. 5:43-48). We especially reflect the love of God in Christ when we express active compassion in the midst of the most troubling and desperate areas of human struggle.

In this spirit, MCC has undertaken a “Generations at Risk” program, partnering with church organizations in Africa in a variety of AIDS-prevention and care efforts.

Congressional budget committees are in the process of making key decisions on the amount of U.S. funding for 2003 to address global AIDS. Senators and representatives should be challenged to include $2.5 billion in the 2003 budget resolution to stop global AIDS. This resolution sets the framework for actual spending decisions Congress will make later in the year.

Now is the time to act compassionately and decisively against global AIDS.

Martin Shupack is a legislative associate in the MCC Washington Office. You can find out more about global AIDS by ordering at no cost the MCC Washington Office Guide to the Global AIDS Pandemic from Mennonite Central Committee, 110 Maryland Ave. NE, #502, Washington, DC20002.

This column was reprinted with permission from the Mennonite Weekly Review.