AIDS – an exploding threat

HIV and AIDS

by Dr Patrick Dixon.

AIDS threatens every recent step of progress in the developing world. With 50 million infected, we may still be in the early stages, hardly nearer an effective low-cost cure or vaccine than ten years ago. Many African nations are already weakened. Fields cultivated by children, villages struggling to function, while in towns and cities foreign investment melts away.

When 20–30% of any group of people carry the virus, the spread of AIDS tends to stabilise or even fall. Thankfully, prevention campaigns over many years do change behaviour, as seen in spectacular falls of HIV infection levels in Ugandan 15–19 year old girls.

However, the dark shadow that AIDS brings is extending rapidly East. India alone, with one billion people, will soon have more HIV infections than the whole of Africa today. By 2010–15 India could have more people infected than the whole world has seen so far, yet official campaigns are only just beginning.

In cities in developing countries, HIV infection levels first tend to double rapidly, but eventually stabilise at 20% or higher. Even when there are effective health campaigns, I struggle to find an example of a single city which has managed to reduce these infection rates.

India has high levels of untreated sexually transmitted diseases in many cities (important in rapid HIV spread), and millions of migrant workers. A high proportion of the rural population is unaware of sex diseases. We are probably too late to prevent 15–20% infection in some areas as it takes a decade to change a nation’s behaviour. However, without aggressive, urgent action now, some levels could reach 25–30%. That’s tens of millions more lives.

As Christians, we represent the world’s largest network of organisations, expertise, wealth and resources – which is why communication is so vital. Three years ago I was invited with others from the Christian AIDS agency, ACET, to help create an Indian AIDS care manual. But within days of arrival it was obvious that excellent training materials were already available in India. Needed more than another manual was a national people-movement of different agencies, able to work together, sharing resources and experience. In due course, CANA (Christian AIDS National Alliance) was born. At the first gathering, over 400 people attended, representing an army of some 20,000 paid or voluntary workers already in the field working with people who have HIV. What an encouragement that was!

The gathering also gave national visibility to a good news story about what Christians are doing together – showing unconditional love to all, regardless of the route of infection, and saving lives with a high impact message, respecting traditional Christian values. The government turned up to speak, as did UNICEF, UNAIDS and other important institutions with substantial financial resources. The conference was a great impetus for mutual encouragement, inspiration and motivation.

Networking is part of our calling and our destiny as we seek to make the biggest difference we can to people’s lives. Life is too short for duplication or competition. Together like coals on a fire, we become so much more for the Kingdom than we are apart.

Dr Patrick Dixon was the founder of ACET (Aids Care Education and Training), with extensive experience of HIV/AIDS education around the world. He is now Director of Global Change. ACET, PO Box 3693, London, SW15 2BQ, UK. Website: www.acetuk.org