The Scourge of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa
What can the righteous do?

By Luis Bush
Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
July 21, 1999


From: Ross Campbell
Thursday, August 12, 1999

AIDS is catching the headlines here in SA these days. The following was released on national TV this evening. In one year the life expectancy of South Africans has dropped by 10 years.

    Life expectancy in 1998 -- 64.1 years
    Life expectancy in 1999 -- 54.7 years

The report went on to state that in Kwazulu-Natal 2 out of every 3 hospital patients is affected. Quite alarming.

It was a simple statement that hit me like a ton of bricks. Last June, over lunch, a Dutch SIL/Wycliffe translator in Southern Africa mentioned that his effort to translate the Scriptures for a remote unreached people was a race against time. Why? Because AIDS was reducing the tribe's population so rapidly, that no members might still be alive when the Bible was finally delivered in their heart language.

In the past ten years, AIDS has jettisoned to the top of the concerns list for the evangelization of Africa in general, and the establishment of the gospel among unreached peoples in particular. African Christian leader, Eva Sanderson, says: "The AIDS scourge world-over, and especially south of the Sahara, is offering more challenges for Christian women in community care for the sick and dying, bereavement counseling and care of orphans."

And the question I found myself asking is: "When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Ps 11:3 NIV)

HIV is an acronym for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, while AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. It is defined as a fatal transmissible disorder of the immune system that is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In most cases, HIV slowly attacks and destroys the immune system, the body's defense against disease, leaving the infected individual vulnerable to malignancies and infections that eventually cause death. AIDS is the last stage of HIV infection, during which time these diseases arise. The major mode of transmission worldwide-that which accounts for 70 percent of all HIV infections -- is heterosexual intercourse. But is it enough to understand HIV and how it is transmitted?

Consider this scenario: A third-year university student in Cape Town discovers lesions caused by herpes. Her doctor warns her severely and advises her to see an AIDS counselor. But six months later, she is back. This time tests reveal she is HIV positive. The doctor asks if she has seen the AIDS counselor.

"No," she explains, "I did not want to stop sleeping with my boyfriend." She gladly receives medication to relieve the discomforts and reduce the symptoms and says: "I will begin taking this immediately so that I can continue sleeping with my boyfriend." Is education really the solution?

Despite several trips to Africa over the last fifteen years, it was only during my July 1999 visit to Southern Africa that AIDS impacted me so much. The theme of the meetings I was involved with was the evangelization of southern Africa through national initiatives with a special emphasis on reaching the unreached. I woke up in the early morning of 17 July overwhelmingly burdened. I asked myself the question: "When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?"

In South Africa, the government funded a massive campaign where millions of condoms were distributed free. An attached slip of paper gave instructions and warnings. But when the receiver pulled off the instructions, it perforated the condom. In Tanzania, the government distributes condoms to elementary school students in the hope that starting earlier will resolve the problem. But despite these efforts, the problem is not going away.

How serous is the problem? Only God really knows.

What is being reported through human agency may not be the whole story. What is told is that AIDS has become the leading cause of death in Africa, overtaking malaria as the continent's main killer disease. Of the 14 million people who have died of AIDS-related illnesses worldwide, 11.5 million or over 82 percent have been Africans. According to a recent United Nations report, about 5,500 Africans die of AIDS every day, with no decrease anticipated. 20 million Africans are currently said to be infected by it. Up to 20 percent of the populations of Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, and South Africa already have AIDS. By 2010, at least 22 million Africans are expected to die of the disease. Worse, infection rates are increasing.

One of the worst situations is in South Africa, which accounts for one of every seven new infections on the continent. From 1991 to 1997 the percentage of the population infected increased from 2 percent to 18 percent, and in one province today, it approaches 40 percent.

In neighboring Swaziland, one communal area is said to be 100 percent AIDS-infected: the land communication belt that lorryists, truckers and other ground transportation people take from South Africa north. With a population of less than one million, a new UNICEF report says that more than 300,000 Swazis are already living with HIV/AIDS. Statistics released after a recent sentinel survey in the country suggested that "as many as one third of all young and middle-aged adults in Swaziland are infected with the virus." Alarmingly the HIV prevalence rate has risen in two years from 26 percent to 32 percent.

"In Kenya there is not a family which has not lost a loved one, neighbor or friend to AIDS." Dr. Stephen Kabachia, chairman of Finish the Task 2000 said.

The rapidity with which AIDS has taken the continent by force is shocking. I asked Christian leader, Godfred Lema, of New Life Crusade, the AD2000 National Coordinator for Tanzania, how serious this was ten years ago. He said, "Comparatively speaking to today, AIDS was a non-issue ten years ago." He describes how, in his own tribe living at the foot of beautiful Mt. Kilimanjaro, this was not a problem ten years ago. But now his tribe is being consumed by AIDS. "We have lost our ethics as a nation. The ethics have changed which has resulted in a greater climate of promiscuity."

Sometimes entire families are affected. In one African country in a well-to-do family a mother became concerned when she observed her pre-teen daughter losing weight. Upon being tested she was found to be HIV positive. When asked by her mother who her partner had been she answered: "my older brother." When the older brother was asked by the mother if he had a partner other than his sister he replied "yes, the house girl." Upon gathering the entire family of four and accusing the house girl of destroying her family with threats to kill her, the house girl laughed and said: "It's your husband." Then the mother realized that she herself, unwittingly, had also become a victim. In the course of time the entire family died.

The most tragic victims are the children. About one million African children under the age of 15 have AIDS. Ninety-five percent of the world's AIDS orphans are African. By 2010, the number of children left parentless by the disease will be about 41 million.

The problem of AIDS spills over into the church, even among those living a biblical lifestyle. About two-thirds of African church members are women, many with unbelieving husbands. When unbelievers come to the Lord from a promiscuous past, fall in love with other young people in the churches and marry them, AIDS spreads. Taking a blood test as a part of pre-marital counseling in the church has been ruled as an abuse of human rights in Tanzania. In neighboring Kenya, however, where they have the freedom to do so, some churches have begun to demand a blood test as a part of their pre-marital counseling.

The problem of AIDS comes as no surprise. The World Health Organization (WHO) raised a red flag of warning as early as 1990. Their goal was health for all by the year 2000 through primary health care. The Assembly, attended by some 1,000 delegates representing 167 WHO member countries, recommended providing aid through bilateral and multilateral channels, including the World Health Organization. Ironically it was at this meeting that Namibia-formerly an associate member-became a full-fledged WHO member. A trust fund for the reconstruction and development of Namibia's health system was to be established. Yet, at the end of the decade, Namibia appears to be among Sub-Sahara African countries with fastest growth of HIV/AIDS.

At that meeting, it was decided that the theme of World AIDS Day on December 1, 1990 would be "Women and AIDS." The Assembly urged member states to ensure that programmes for the control of HIV infection and AIDS were coordinated and integrated with other programmes for women, children and families. They were asked to recognize, both in the WHO Global Strategy for the prevention and control of AIDS, and in their own national AIDS programmes the crucial role of women, women's organizations and non-governmental organizations in preventing HIV transmission and caring for people with AIDS-related diseases. However, at the end of the decade, not only has HIV and AIDS not been contained, in southern Africa, it appears to have exploded beyond the realms of human control.

"When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?"

During the third week of May, I asked Ross Campbell, the AD2000 Associate for National Initiatives with a special emphasis on Africa, whether the African National Initiatives were dealing with the AIDS issue. Ross received a number of responses from national coordinators and noted: "At this stage in their development most African National Initiatives are not strongly focused on the AIDS issue. Many of these initiatives are still in the early stages of development where the focus is on identifying the least evangelized peoples and encouraging pioneer church planting among them. As break through is achieved and the focus moves to saturation church planting the challenge of AIDS must become an issue. Never the less, the challenge of AIDS is being raised in national consultations and reports. Many denominations, churches and Christian ministries are presently involved in specialist ministries such as medical care, educational programmes, and the care of orphans."

Stephen Kabachia said: "The only hope is Jesus. We must accelerate the evangelization of our nation."

One of the many unsung heroes of Africa today who has confronted the problem of AIDS in her country officially and non-officially has been Eva Sanderson. She serves as Chairperson for the Board of the Pan Africa Christian Women's Alliance (PACWA), is a member of the International Council of the World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF), is Chairperson of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and is Honorary Co-Chairperson of the AD2000 & Beyond Movement.

A nurse by profession, she was working in a clinic in Zambia when the AIDS epidemic surfaced. Today, along with practical and spiritual solutions, Eva is active politically. She uses her influence at policy-making levels, practical levels and personal levels to seek to free her world from the scourge of the pestilence that comes, including AIDS.

No vaccine or cure has yet been developed that can prevent HIV infection.

The problem has reached epidemic proportions in Africa.

"When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?"

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