Where AIDS Is Pandemic
IN LESS than 15 years, AIDS has cast its shadow over every continent on earth. In just a few years, this biological bomb has exploded to pandemic proportions. WHO (World Health Organization) has estimated that throughout the world 5,000 people are being infected every day. That is more than three people every minute! The countries affected the most have been the poorer ones, those of the so-called developing world. WHO predicted that these countries will, by the year 2000, account for 90 percent of all HIV infections and eventually 90 percent of all AIDS cases.
Those Hardest Hit
Rose was 27 years old and married with three children when her husband suddenly fell sick. He died some months later. The cause of her husband’s death was not certain at the time. Doctors diagnosed tuberculosis. Relatives said he had been bewitched. The relatives of her husband started grabbing Rose’s property. Her in-laws forcibly took her children while she was out. Rose was compelled to return to her own village. Two years later she developed bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. That was when she realized that her husband had died of AIDS and that she too had been infected. Rose died three years later, at 32 years of age.
Tragic stories such as this one are now common. In some areas whole families and even villages have been wiped out.
“The Greatest Health Problem of Our Time”
Governments in developing countries are severely handicapped when trying to cope. Because of lack of financial resources and the presence of other urgent and costly priorities, AIDS is proving to be the proverbial last straw. The worldwide recession, food shortages, natural disasters, wars, cultural practices, and superstitions only compound the problem. Providing special care involving equipment and medication for the frequent infections of AIDS patients is expensive. Many of the major hospitals are now overcrowded, run-down, and understaffed. The majority of patients with AIDS are now sent home to die in order to make room for an ever-growing number of other needy patients. Related to AIDS has been an alarming increase in secondary infections such as tuberculosis. Some countries have reported that tuberculosis deaths have doubled in the last three years, and up to 80 percent of hospital patients with AIDS have tuberculosis.
The Social Impact of AIDS
The AIDS pandemic impacts not only the health-care system but also all sectors of the economy and of society. As much as 80 percent of those infected are between 16 and 40 years of age, the most productive age-group in society. The majority of family wage earners are in this age bracket. Most families are dependent on them, but as they fall sick and eventually die, the very young and elderly are left without support. In any African society, when the parents of a child die, traditionally the child is adopted and absorbed into the extended family system. Today, however, when the parents die, the grandparents or other surviving relatives are often too old or are already loaded down trying to provide for the needs of their own children. This situation has led to an orphan crisis and an increase in the number of street children. WHO predicts that in sub-Saharan Africa alone, over 10 million children will be orphaned by the end of this century.
Women are finding the AIDS scourge doubly distressing and burdensome. It is women who are primarily called upon to provide the 24-hour-a-day nursing care needed by the sick and dying—this on top of all the other household duties they have to perform.
What Is Being Done
In the early 1980’s, many government officials, prejudiced by the stigma associated with AIDS and unaware of the rapidity with which it would spread, were apathetic and complacent. However, in 1986 the Ugandan government declared war on AIDS. Over the last nine years, Uganda has been credited with having “the most innovative AIDS efforts developed to date.”
Today, there are over 600 national and international organizations and agencies in Uganda that are concerned with trying to control the spread of AIDS. These humanitarian agencies have set up a network of AIDS education centers throughout the country. Public awareness of the AIDS scourge is being brought to people’s attention through dramas, dances, songs, radio and TV programs, newspapers, and telephone. Along with home care and material assistance, counseling is provided for those with AIDS as well as for widows and orphans.
Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, care for orphans and widows is viewed as part of Christian worship. (James 1:27; 2:15-17; 1 John 3:17, 18) The congregation does not take over the responsibility of family members to care for their own. But if there are no close family members, or if orphans and widows are just unable to provide for themselves, the congregation lovingly comes to their assistance.
Joyce, for example, was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses living in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. She was a victim of AIDS and died in August 1993. Before she died she wrote the following account: “I grew up as a Protestant and later married a Catholic. However, I could see many in my church behaving immorally, and so I stopped going. My eldest sister was studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and when she came to visit, she told me about the things she was learning from the Bible.
“My husband was very much opposed to my studying the Bible. Even my parents started to oppose me, especially my father. This opposition went on for two years, but it did not discourage me, as I was convinced that I was learning the truth. When I told my husband that I wished to be baptized, he was furious. He physically abused me and told me to leave the house. So I left and lived alone in a small rented room.
“Some time later my husband asked me to return. It was not long after I returned that he started to become weak and sickly. I was surprised, as he had always enjoyed such good health. Eventually we came to understand that he had AIDS. He died in 1987. By this time I was a regular pioneer [full-time evangelizer], and even though I was now widowed with five children, I continued in the pioneer service.
“Four years later, in 1991, I realized that I had contracted AIDS from my husband. I started to degenerate physically and suffered from a skin rash, rapid weight loss, and constant bouts of the flu. I still continued pioneering and was conducting 20 Bible studies, but as my strength deteriorated, I had to reduce them to 16. Seven of these students eventually got baptized.
“I never felt isolated or depressed, as the congregation was a real support to me. Eventually, I had to miss some meetings because of physical weakness. The brothers recorded them for me on an audiocassette, and I was continually fed spiritually. The congregation elders made up a roster so that my spiritual sisters could take turns tending to my needs and even staying by my side overnight. One thing though was bothering me—my children. ‘What will happen to them when I am gone?’ I wondered.
“In Africa the property of a dead person is often taken by the relatives, so I constantly prayed to Jehovah about this. I decided to sell my house and build smaller rental units so that my children would always have a place to live and some regular income. The brothers in the congregation sold my house for me and managed to buy another plot of land, and they built the units for me. I lived in one of them and felt peace of mind knowing that my children would be taken care of.
“My relatives were very angry that I had sold the house, and they started a legal battle against me. Once again, the brothers came to my assistance and dealt with the matter for me. We won the legal case. Although I now feel much weaker, Jehovah’s loving organization and the Kingdom hope keep me going. Because of my condition I have now been admitted to a hospital. I still have my spiritual sisters at my side tending to my needs day and night, as the hospital cannot provide adequate food and bedding.”
After spending six months in the hospital, Joyce was sent home. Two days later she died. Her five children are now being cared for by a pioneer sister in the congregation who also has three children of her own.
In Uganda, where AIDS is already pandemic, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni stated: “I believe that the best response to the threat posed by AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases is to reaffirm publicly and forthrightly the reverence, respect and responsibility every person owes to his or her neighbour.” In short, there is a need for a return to monogamous morality within the marriage arrangement. Everyone agrees that this is the only way to be safe and the only way AIDS can be controlled. Few, however, believe such a moral standard to be attainable.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are among those who not only believe such morality is possible but practice it. Further, they believe, as did Joyce, in God’s promise of new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness is to dwell. (2 Peter 3:13) In a world wiped clean of all wickedness, Jehovah God will then fulfill the promise recorded at Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”
[Picture on page 10]
A father takes his son, who died of AIDS, to be buried