Even after more than 35 years of fighting HIV-AIDS, the disease continued to claim about a million lives in 2016. And while significant strides have been made to combat this infection, a lot more still needs to be done. Here is a comparison on how much had been achieved by 2016:
Year 2001 2016
People with HIV 30 million 36.7 million
New HIV infections 3.4 million 1.8 million
Deaths 1.9 million 1.0 million
The increase in the number of people with HIV to 36.7 million in 2016 is partially attributed to people living longer due to anti-retroviral treatment, as well as the new infections. Out of the 36.7 million people living with HIV, 25.6 million or 69% are in the African continent.
The Adventist AIDS International Ministry (AAIM) was established by the General Conference in November 2002 to address the theological, moral, social, physical, medical, economic. and other issues, related to the HIV pandemic. Although most of its activities have been concentrated in the three African regions since HIV is highest in that area, its services are available to the entire World Church. With its extensive scope of responsibility, it is a hybrid ministry functioning as one of the many church departments and at the same time being involved in projects similar to ADRA. AAIM does numerous education programs dealing with HIV awareness, support group establishment, prevention strategies, stigma-discrimination elimination, training to equip the church to effectively respond to HIV, counseling and testing and others. Like ADRA they are involved in various projects to take care of those infected and affected such as income generating activities, HIV training of trainers, gardening, nutrition classes, orphans care, impact mitigation and others. Many of these projects are in collaboration with ADRA.
One such ADRA-AAIM partnership is the HIV Training of Trainers (TOT). This started in 2004 funded by the Swedish Mission Council. The main objective is to create a working awareness of HIV and what can be done for those infected using trained volunteer counsellors. Countries that benefited in the past are Zimbabwe, South Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya. This project was initially for 3 years but due to its effectiveness, it continues up to this time in the countries of Malawi, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland. More than 500,000 persons were directly helped. Many confessed that, had it not been for the HIV TOT program, they would be dead by now.
It is sad that in many under-developed as well as other countries, HIV is considered to be a disease of poverty. Some women are forced to sell their bodies in order to survive. One aptly expressed the survival strategy of these women of the night, “I would rather die of HIV-AIDS than die of hunger”. From a purely evolutionary concept of the survival of the fittest, this makes complete sense. The average person without any food may die in 50 days or more. As for HIV, it takes an average of 2-3 years for the disease to manifest from the time of the initial infection and another 3-5 years before death sets in unless medications are taken. Death is faster with hunger compared to HIV.
In Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Safi Bakano, the HIV Coordinator of the Northeast Congo Union Mission, with the financial support of Triadelphia church in Washington DC, embarked in a sewing income generating program. The intention was to empower women so they would be able to earn a living according to the Divine precepts. Twenty-seven HIV positive women, with 3 engaged in selling their bodies, embarked on a six-month sewing and dress designing course. With the new skills learned, all of those engaged in prostitution stopped their trade. Some exceptionally well that they now have their own sewing machine and dress shop. With the overflowing love shown by the church, four persons responded in baptism.
Due to constant use of their eyesight under inadequate lighting conditions, poverty, poor nutrition and many other factors, the visual acuity of these ladies have diminished. This medical condition seriously affected their abilities to properly sew clothes and also to make intricate embroidery designs. Realizing this great impediment, AAIM asked for new and used, but still good condition, spectacles through a group of Adventists Optometrist in the United States. In February 2017, the eyeglasses were distributed much to the appreciation of those who were affected. These women greatly rejoice that they can now do better tailoring jobs and at the same time, read the Bible. Such a simple gesture, yet made a whole lot of difference in their lives.
It is the mission of AAIM to reveal the love, compassion, mercy and love of Jesus Christ not only to those with HIV but to others as well.