By Dr Patrick Dixon.
“It is now clear that the toll of HIV infection around the globe is worsening, especially in developing countries”
(Dr Michael Merson, Director WHO Global Programme on AIDS)
Many experts believe that AIDS is likely to become the greatest developing world disaster this century with, according to the World Health Organisation, some 8 –10 million people infected worldwide. In ten years time a further 20 million will be infected, with another 10 million children orphaned.
AIDS is a collection of symptoms caused by a virus (HIV). The virus can exist in the body for 10 – 20 years without causing any sign of illness, yet the person remains infectious throughout this period. The virus is most commonly passed on to others through sexual intercourse, but it can also be passed on through unsterilised needles, infected blood and from an infected mother to her child before, or during, birth.
AIDS has spread rapidly world wide. Healthcare workers in almost every part of the world are likely to come across someone who is HIV infected at some point – whether this is a colleague, a patient or a relative.
How should we respond to people who are ill with AIDS? How can we practically help them and their families?
I believe that there is only one response to AIDS, and that is unconditionally to love and care for those infected, whiles always giving clear teaching on how to avoid infection. Christians have always been called to be at the forefront of care and compassion for all who are ill, regardless of the cause of illness or any other factor. We also have a responsibility to educate friends, family and others.
ACET (AIDS Care, Education and Training) is a church based charity which was set up two and a half years ago and is now the largest independent provider of practical care to men, women and children who are unwell with HIV/AIDS in the UK. ACET is also the largest independent provider of preventative schools’ education classes on AIDS, and provides training to healthcare professionals and churches.
In the past year, staff from ACET have twice visited Romania to deliver medical supplies and assess the situation of HIV infection amongst babies. As a result of this, a Romanian national is now working for ACET in Constantia and an education programme is being set up in Brasov to train doctors and nurses to educate their staff about AIDS.
At the request of churches in Uganda ACET has made three visits to the country. With a grant from Tear Fund, ACET has appointed a Director for ACET Africa, Anthony Kasozi, who is Ugandan and a management consultant. He will be available to act as a resource to the problems of HIV/AIDS in Uganda and neighbouring countries.
AIDS is a worldwide problem, affecting people from all kinds of backgrounds. The numbers of people infected in different countries, and the standards of healthcare available vary greatly. The challenge is to make the best use of the limited resources available to provide the highest quality of life to those infected, and affected, by HIV or AIDS.
The Christian Message
God loves all people unconditionally regardless of their response to him. As Christians we are called to care for all who are ill, regardless of how they came to be ill. If the Christian teaching of one faithful partner for life is followed, the spread of infection becomes very unlikely.
AIDS in Your Church
Because HIV infection may be carried in the body for up to 20 years before illness starts, many churches today are now ill or dying as a result of risks taken before they found faith in Christ. In some areas up to a quarter of a church’s congregation could die over the next few years. Many with AIDS are also mow looking to the church for comfort, help and hope.
Dr Patrick Dixon has wide experience as a doctor, particularly in the care of the dying. He was instrumental in the setting up of ACET where he is now Director. He was written two books on AIDS.
What is AIDS?
- The virus called HIV (Human Immune deficiency Virus) enters the body through sex with an infected partner, through sharing dirty needles, or in contaminated blood.
- Over 5 - 15 years the virus gradually destroys the ability of the body to fight infection.
- Other infections then start to cause obvious illness such as diarrhoea, skin diseases, fever, cough, loss of weight and other problems. The person has now developed AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). In Africa, weight loss is one of the commonest signs of AIDS and it is often known as "Slim Disease". Eventually these other infections cause death. One of the commonest in Africa is tuberculosis (TB).
A Global Disaster
- AIDS is in almost every country in the world
- In most parts of Africa, HIV infection is spreading fast.
- Many African cities already have infection rates of at least 10-20%.
- In many parts of the world, numbers infected are doubling every year.
- In Thailand, numbers infected rose from 1,000 to 50,000 in just over a year due to drug injecting.
- Ten million children will be AIDS orphans by 2,000 AD.
- Ten million other children will be HIV infected by 2,000 AD.
- There is still no cure for AIDS and little real progress in finding one.
- An effective vaccine is likely to be ten years away.
- Official AIDS figures from some developing countries need multiplying by up to ten times to get realistic figures.
- Education remains our only weapon against AIDS.
WHO Minimum Estimates Sept 1990
USA 1 - 1.5 million
UK 15,000 - 30,000
Africa 5 million
Thailand 50,000 - 100,000
Worldwide 8 - 10 million