I am one of the lucky ones. Every few months I travel to Zambia and meet people who are dealing with AIDS. If that seems contradictory, let me explain: Millions of people in the world’s poorest countries now receive drugs that have saved their lives and brought hope to their communities. Instead of seeing people being carried to the clinics, emaciated and weak, I see relatively healthy patients walking to the pharmacy to receive their next month’s supply of medicine. I see men and women who are able to work and care for their children. I see children who are uninfected, thanks to prenatal intervention, or who know that, although they will always be HIV-positive, it is not a death sentence.
Since the start of PEPFAR (The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) five years ago, more than 2 million people have received treatment; millions more pregnant women have been tested and treated to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus. While other countries have also been involved, the U.S. response has been most significant.
Organizations such as World Vision, Food for the Hungry, and Compassion International have also been on the forefront of the work. The Roman Catholic, Christian Reform, Nazarene, and Methodist churches, among many others, have all played significant roles.
The change in the last few years is amazing. No longer do funeral processions dominate the roads or lines form for blocks outside clinics. And perhaps most surprising to me is how I, as a U.S. citizen, am treated. Wherever I go, people tell me, “Please thank the American people for sending us the drugs that save our lives.”
I pass on the thanks to you, to the Bush administration, and to Congress, as well as all the churches and nonprofits who have worked tirelessly to provide help to those they may never meet. But I also offer you a challenge.
It has never been easy to mobilize Americans to fight a disease that no longer feels like a personal threat. And many faith-based groups fight the battle on two fronts—one with the disease and the other with supporters who are still suspicious or judgmental.
WITH THE economic challenges in the U.S., it is tempting to think first about ourselves and see the needs of those in Africa and other parts of the world as being outside our national interest. But anyone who has seen the miracle that the people of the U.S. have participated in knows that spending money to save lives is very much in our interest.
Now is the time for people of faith to renew our efforts to support prevention, care, and treatment programs for HIV through both government and private organizations. We need to not grow weary of fighting the good fight.
Specifically, I’d like to suggest that each of us take the time to write five short e-mails. Send one to President Obama, one to your senators, and another to your representative. State your support for the work that has gone on under the PEPFAR banner; urge the U.S. to continue to take a lead role in providing needed medicines for those living with HIV, as well as support for pregnant women and vulnerable children.
Send another e-mail to your pastor, especially if your church is involved in an effort to support AIDS work, and tell him or her how grateful you are to be part of a congregation that cares.
Send one more to an organization doing work in the area of AIDS. Thank them for caring about this important issue.
Of course there are many more things you can do to touch the lives of those living with HIV. But today, five short e-mails can go a long way toward making a difference. I promise you that there are men, women, and children in Africa who will thank you for it.
—Dale Hanson Bourke
Dale Hanson Bourke is author of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Global AIDS Crisis and president of the CIDRZ (Center for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia) Foundation.