HIV/AIDS in 2008

By Byron E. Conner, M.D.

“But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.”

­— Matthew 9:36

We may not hear as much as we did at one time about the AIDS/HIV pandemic, but nevertheless, the pandemic rages on. There are an estimated 33 million adults and children living with HIV at the end of 2007, and this includes 2.5 million newly infected. Since 1981, 20 million people have died of AIDS infection.

Sadly, what can be seen by African Americans as their point of origin (Sub-Saharan Africa) is racked by HIV infection. In fact, this region of the world accounts for about 68% of persons living with HIV and 76% of the deaths in 2007.

The epidemic is most concentrated, but not exclusive to men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and sex workers. Half of all infections worldwide are in women, especially young women who may be powerless to control their own sexual lives due to male dominance and subjugation.

Here in America, African American males have more than 8 times the AIDS rate of White males and African American females 25 times the AIDS rate of White females. African American males are 9 times as likely to die from HIV/AIDS and females 22 times as likely to day. These statistics are a part of the situation of health disparities that exist in America.

Since about 1981, medical science has tried to come to grips with the epidemic. The first recognized victims were gay males, injection drug users, hemophiliacs, and Haitian immigrants. In general it was recognized later that blood, tissue (as in transplants, and implantation), semen and vaginal secretions were the chief sources of infection.
There is no evidence that insect bites spread HIV infection. Complicating factors may include other infections such as malaria, tuberculosis and various sexually transmitted disease that may make HIV infection more transmissible and more severe.

Efforts have been made to prevent, educate, and control HIV infection. Education has helped, but not stopped this pandemic. Efforts to develop an effective vaccine have failed. However, one of the major success stories is the development of what is called “antiretroviral” treatment.

There is a combination of drugs that can allow a person with HIV infection to live a surprisingly health existence. However, only about 30% of those who need the treatment have access to it.

On a personal note, I remember a time about 20 years ago when we had only one drug called “AZT”, to treat HIV infection. It by itself, was a dismal failure. Now there are a host of drugs that taken in the right combination can keep people healthy beyond belief, compared to 20 years ago. It is not a cure, but it is efficacious.

The problem is access and imparting some essential knowledge about this treatment and about how a person can protect oneself from this deadly infection. There is however, no end in sight for the pandemic.

AIDS/HIV is a challenge to the church. It is a hot-button and divisive issue. Too often, there has been an attitude that AIDS victims are getting what they deserve, despite the fact that victims may include people such as children, and women who have male partners that may have been incarcerated. They are the untouchables and the lepers of our society. These people are a test of our compassion. Do we have the compassion that Jesus had or do we not?.

One thing the church can do is show a little love and kindness if we find a person who does have HIV/AIDS. We can make it a part of our ministry educating people about the risks of HIV infection, and the fact that there is in fact effective treatment, in this country.

We can demonstrate that we love unconditionally.

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