Will AIDS Be Halted? If So, How?
FOR some time there has been denial in many African countries about the AIDS epidemic. It is a subject some people would rather not discuss. In more recent years, though, efforts have been made to educate the youth in particular and to encourage open discussion. These efforts have had limited success. People’s life-styles and customs are firmly entrenched, and it is difficult to effect change.
On the medical front, scientists have learned much about HIV and have developed drugs that have prolonged the lives of many. A combination of at least three antiretroviral drugs, referred to as highly active antiretroviral therapy, has been used effectively.
While not a cure, these drugs have succeeded in reducing the death rate of HIV sufferers, particularly in developed countries. Many people stress the importance of supplying these drugs to developing countries. The drugs are expensive, however, and far beyond the means of most people in these lands.
This has brought an issue to the fore: Is financial profit more important than human life? The situation was acknowledged by the director of Brazil’s program on HIV/AIDS, Dr. Paulo Teixeira: “We cannot allow thousands of people to be set adrift for the lack of drugs with which to survive, simply in the name of profits far in excess of those normally earned.” He added: “I am extremely concerned that commercial interests should not be placed ahead of ethical and human considerations.”
A few countries have decided to override some of the patents of large pharmaceutical companies and to make or import generic versions of some drugs at a much lower cost.* According to one study, “minimum prices [of generic drugs] were found to be 82% less than the benchmark US prices,” reports the South African Medical Journal.
In time, the large pharmaceutical companies started to offer AIDS drugs at much lower prices to developing countries in need. It was hoped that in this way many more people would be able to make use of the drugs. However, there are major obstacles to overcome to make such drugs readily available in developing lands. One of these is the cost. Even at drastically reduced prices, the drugs are still far too expensive for the majority of the people who need them.
Another problem is that the drugs are not easy to administer. Many pills must be taken daily, at specified times. If they are not taken correctly or if the medication routine is interrupted, this could lead to the development of drug-resistant strains of HIV. It is difficult to ensure adherence to correct dosages in African conditions, where there may be little food, a low supply of clean drinking water, and few medical facilities.
Further, those taking the drugs must be monitored. If resistance develops, their combination of drugs must be altered. Experienced medical staff are needed for this, and the tests are expensive. Also, the drugs do have side effects, and drug-resistant strains of the virus are developing.
In June 2001 at the UN General Assembly special meeting on AIDS, a Global Health Fund was proposed to assist developing countries. It was estimated that an amount of between $7 billion and $10 billion was needed. Total pledges for this fund have so far been way short of the targeted amount.
Scientists entertain strong hopes of finding a vaccine, and various ones are being tested in different countries. Even if these efforts are successful, it will be several years before a vaccine has been developed, tested, and proved safe for general use.
Some countries, such as Brazil, Thailand, and Uganda, have had notable success with treatment programs. Brazil, by using locally manufactured drugs, has halved the AIDS-related death rate. The small country of Botswana, which has the financial means, is making efforts to provide antiretroviral drugs to all in need in the country and is striving to provide the essential health-care facilities.
The Defeat of AIDS
AIDS differs from some other epidemics in one important respect: It is preventable. If individuals are prepared to adhere to basic Bible principles, they can in many, if not all, cases avoid contamination.
The Bible’s moral standards are clear. Those not married should abstain from sexual intercourse. (1 Corinthians 6:18) Married people should be faithful to their partner and not commit adultery. (Hebrews 13:4) Heeding the Bible’s admonition to abstain from blood also serves to protect one.—Acts 15:28, 29.
Those who are already infected can find great joy and comfort through learning about the disease-free world promised by God for the near future and then through conforming to God’s requirements.
The Bible assures us that in due course all mankind’s woes, including disease, will come to an end. This promise is made in the book of Revelation: “I heard a loud voice from the throne say: ‘Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. And 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.’”—Revelation 21:3, 4.
That assurance is not just for those who can afford costly medication. The prophetic promise of Revelation chapter 21 is confirmed at Isaiah 33:24: “No resident will say: ‘I am sick.’” Then all living on the earth will abide by God’s laws and will enjoy perfect health. Thus, the deadly march of AIDS—and all other diseases—will be halted forever.
Generic drugs are copies of drugs that have been patented by other pharmaceutical companies. Member countries of the World Trade Organization may legally override drug patents in emergency situations.
[Box/Pictures on page 9, 10]
THIS WAS THE REAL CURE I WAS LOOKING FOR
I live in southern Africa, and I am 23 years old. I remember the day I found out that I was HIV positive.
I was with my mother in the consulting room when the doctor broke the news. It was the saddest news I had ever heard in my life. I was confused. I couldn’t believe it. I thought that maybe the laboratory had made a mistake. I didn’t know what to say or do. I felt like crying, but I had no tears. The doctor started discussing the antiretroviral drugs and other things with my mother, but I was too shocked to take anything in.
I realized that I may have been infected by someone at the university where I was studying. I very much wanted to talk to anyone who would understand my situation, but I could think of no one. I succumbed to feelings of worthlessness and failure. Although my family supported me, I felt hopeless and scared. Like any other youth, I had so many dreams. I had only two years to go to finish my bachelor of science degree, but that hope was shattered.
I started taking the prescribed antiretroviral drugs and also went to AIDS counselors, but I still felt depressed. I prayed to God to show me true Christianity before my death. I was a member of one of the Pentecostal churches, but no one from the church even paid me a visit. I wanted to know the truth about where I would go after death.
One morning in early August 1999, two of Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked at my door. I was very sick that day, but I was able to sit up in the living room. The two ladies introduced themselves and said that they were assisting people to study the Bible. What a relief it was finally to have my prayers answered. But by then I was so weak that I couldn’t read or concentrate for long.
Nevertheless, I told them that I wanted to study the Bible, and they made an appointment with me. Unfortunately, before the time arrived, I was taken to a psychiatric hospital because of my depression. I was discharged three weeks later and was relieved to find that the Witnesses had not forgotten me. I recall that one of them kept contacting me to see how I was. Physically, I recovered somewhat, and I started studying the Bible toward the end of the year. I didn’t find it easy, though, because my condition was unstable. But the person studying with me was understanding and patient.
I was greatly impressed when I studied about Jehovah and his qualities in the Bible, as well as what it really means to know him and to look forward to everlasting life. For the first time, I also understood the reason for man’s suffering. It brought me great joy to learn about God’s Kingdom, which will soon replace all human governments. It motivated me to change my way of life completely.
This was the real cure I was looking for. How comforting it was to realize that Jehovah still loves me and cares! Previously, I thought that God hated me and that this was why I was infected with this disease. But I learned that Jehovah lovingly made provision for the forgiveness of sin on the basis of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I then knew that God cares, as 1 Peter 5:7 says: “Throw all your anxiety upon him, because he cares for you.”
By studying the Bible every day and attending meetings at the Kingdom Hall, I am really working hard to be as close to Jehovah as I can. While it is not always easy, I pour my anxieties out to Jehovah in prayer and ask for his strength and comfort. Members of the congregation are there for me as well, so I am happy.
I regularly share in the evangelizing work along with the local congregation. I want to help others spiritually, particularly those in a situation similar to mine. I was baptized in December 2001.
It brought me great joy to learn about God’s Kingdom
[Picture on page 8]
AIDS counseling team in Botswana
[Picture on page 10]
On the Paradise earth, all will enjoy perfect health