Courtesy of Relevant Magazine:
The global HIV/AIDS pandemic rarely leaves much room for optimism. A brief look at the numbers is staggering, and even daunting. There are currently 33 million people worldwide living with HIV or AIDS, most of them in developing countries. Of that 33 million, 2 million are children under the age of 15. Last year, there were 2.7 million new cases of HIV. Another 2 million people died from the virus in 2007. In the United States alone, there were 56,000 new cases of HIV last year.
With a problem as massive as HIV/AIDS, it’s easy to become shocked into a state of inaction. The issue seems too difficult to handle, and not knowing where to start, we don’t start at all. Today, however, is a day to take action. It is a day to remember those directly affected by this pandemic. December 1 is international World AIDS Day. The purpose of World AIDS Day is to bring public awareness to the spread of the disease throughout the world. Moreover, it’s about respect and solidarity for the millions of people living with HIV/AIDS. Across the globe today, governments are showing solidarity for those living with the virus. President Bush announced today that the U.S. met its 2008 goal of providing treatment for 2 million people by the end of the year. In China, a country where discrimination against those living with the disease can be common, President Hu Jintao visited AIDS and HIV patients to show the country’s support for those living with the disease. In South Africa, the country most afflicted with the disease, a moment of silence was observed for AIDS sufferers, and the country celebrated new strategies in their fight against the virus.
2008 marks the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day. In the past 20 years, much has been accomplished in the global fight against AIDS. New medications have allowed people to lead significantly longer (or even normal) life spans. The U.S. has tripled its commitment to fighting AIDS in Africa with the president pledging billion to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Great advances have been made in prevention education in developing nations. There is indeed reason for optimism. However, with the problem of AIDS growing globally, there is still much work to be done.
The time to get involved in the fight against AIDS and HIV is now. As the Church, it is a moral imperative that we show love and compassion to those living with AIDS. HIV and AIDS are often branded with a severe social stigma. People living with the disease are practically deemed untouchable. It is especially important, then, that Christians show the mercy and compassion to reject these stigmas. In the time of Christ, those stricken with leprosy carried this kind of stigma. As ceremonially unclean people, they were shunned from the community. Yet Jesus spent time with those who others would have seen as outcasts. He did this not out of pity, but out of love.
In addition to showing empathy, it is also incumbent upon us to offer practical help to people stricken with AIDS. One way we can do this is by becoming involved with World AIDS Day. The World AIDS Campaign , who coordinates World AIDS Day, offers opportunities to join the global fight against AIDS. One such avenue is the Leadership Pledge. This downloadable document serves as a petition to urge world governments to live up to their promises in battling the AIDS pandemic. Also, the pledge sheets are used in exhibitions during WAC events to raise public awareness about the global crisis. The WAC also provides people with tools to start their own local campaigns against AIDS. By providing position papers and marketing materials, grassroots organizations can be armed with the knowledge and practical resources they need to fight AIDS and HIV on a community level. This means individual churches can form their own viable AIDS ministries. This year, as we reflect on those around the world suffering with AIDS and HIV, take action. Consider utilizing the tools provided by the WAC to begin an AIDS outreach in your own community.
AIDS and HIV are indeed a daunting and overwhelming issue, but the battle is not hopeless. As long as governments continue to fund research, medications and prevention education, we can see the spread of AIDS halted. But in order to ensure that global governments follow through on their commitments to fight the pandemic, it will take a public willing to hold them accountable. It will take a church that does not stand by in apathy. It will take individuals willing to love those who have been deemed outcasts by society. Most of all, it will take a steadfast commitment. We as individuals must no longer tolerate the stranglehold AIDS and HIV have on the globe. Let this World AIDS Day be more than a reminder that causes empathy. Let it spur action.
Author: Sam Hamilton