|AIDS epidemic growing in Asia|
By Donald E. Messer*
Dec. 10, 2009
Children perform at an AIDS orphanage
in Bali, Indonesia. UMNS Photos
courtesy of Donald Messer.
The HIV and AIDS pandemic often remains overlooked in Asia, where more than half of the world’s population resides. Sub-Saharan
Africa, as the epicenter of the global crisis, with 71 percent of all
new infections in 2008, has deservedly drawn the most media and public
Globally, 33.4 million people (almost half women) are
estimated to be HIV positive. Ten years ago, one in 10 people
infected was Asian—today one of five newly infected are
Asian. About 5 million people live with HIV, including some
440,000 newly infected in the past year. The percentage of Asian women
infected has escalated from 17 percent to 35 percent. Only South
Africa has more people infected than India.
Recent visits to Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand have
highlighted for me the perilous dilemmas and urgent challenges faced in
Asia. In every place, cultural and religious traditions hinder
effective strategies for education, prevention, care and treatment.
Addressing taboo topics
AIDS remains a defining issue of our time—a global health and
human development emergency that impacts the most impoverished and
vulnerable. Despite increased efforts focused on prevention
and treatment, the world is losing the battle. In 2008, 2 million
died of AIDS and 2.7 million were newly infected with HIV.
The pandemic still remains an unaddressed taboo topic in most
Christian churches around the world. Relatively few congregations
sponsor AIDS ministries or annually observe World AIDS Day Dec. 1.
After preaching in a rural church in India, a young man and
his family approached me, declaring, “I have been waiting and waiting
for this day. My church has been silent while millions in my
country have become infected with HIV and died of AIDS.”
Despite the fact that Jesus did not discriminate among the
sick who came to him for healing, Christians often have chosen to
stigmatize persons and families living with HIV. The Great
Physician repeatedly commanded his disciples to “cure every disease and
every sickness” (Matthew 9:35; 10:1), but many modern-day followers
prefer to avoid dealing with the disease in their communities and
Yet if Christians are to be partners in efforts to create an
AIDS-free world, difficult subjects must be addressed and actions
Practicing “zero grazing”
Foremost must be underscoring what Ugandans call “zero
grazing,” that is, being sexually faithful to one’s
partner. Married women around the world are the most imperiled.
UNAIDS says an estimated 50 million Asian women are now at
risk of being infected by partners, particularly from men who buy sex,
most of whom are married.
During the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the
Pacific last August in Bali, it was reported that over 90 percent
of the 1.7 million women living with HIV in Asia were infected by their
husbands or partners with whom they had a long-term relationship.
Princey in Sri Lanka told me how she was infected by her
husband. Once neighbors learned of their illness, they burned
their home down and forced them, and their two little daughters, to
flee. After her husband died, she formed a network of Positive
Women, “hoping the next generation doesn’t have to endure what my
family has experienced.”
Appealing for help at a meeting of concerned evangelical
church leaders in Colombo, she told how recently when she went to a
dentist seeking treatment for a toothache, she was thrown out of the
office rather than getting care.
Bringing light and love
Years ago, retired United Methodist Bishop Felton May said,
“Churches cannot conquer AIDS alone, but it will not happen without
us.” Today, the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, with its
limited resources, is making a difference. To date, the
church-oriented and Christ-centered fund has supported over 160
projects in 33 countries.
The medicine shelves are
nearly empty at the Women
and Children’s Center in Namakkal, India.
One such project, a Women and Children’s Center, stands
on a busy street corner in Namakkal, India. Impoverished women,
children and youth come for urgently needed health care. The staff
introduced me to a child-headed household. Three young children
had been recently orphaned because of AIDS. Now they live in a
little cement-block home built for them by five United Methodist women
from LaVeta, Colo.
The malnourished 15-year-old boy, Siva, works 10 hours a day
cleaning eggs with formaldehyde liquid. He is trying to pay off
his father’s 5,000 rupee debt, as well as earn money for food to feed
the family. His 12-year-old sister, Gomathi, suffering from
tuberculosis, cooks and cleans and has to leave for school by 7 every
morning. Together they care for their 8-year-old HIV-positive
Since it was Murugan’s birthday, we brought a cake complete
with candles. As I sang “Happy Birthday,” tears streamed down
my face. I thanked God for these courageous children struggling to
survive and for all those unknown loving Christians who are joining
everywhere to battle HIV and AIDS, bringing hope and light to the world.
The next day when I stood outside the Women and Children’s
Center, amid the frenetic bustle of life, I heard in my heart the
lyrics of a hymn United Methodists have been singing for 100 years,
“Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life,” penned by Frank M.
North. I felt Christ’s presence as I recalled the familiar verses:
“From tender childhood’s helplessness,
From woman’s grief, man’s burdened toil,
From famished souls, from sorrow’s stress,
Your heart has never known recoil.
The cup of water given for You,
Still holds the freshness of Your grace;
Yet long these multitudes to view
The sweet compassion of Your face.
O Master, from the mountainside
Make haste to heal these hearts of pain;
Among these restless throngs abide;
O tread the city’s streets again.”
*Messer, executive director of the Center for the Church and
Global AIDS in Centennial, Colo., also serves as chair of the United
Methodist Global AIDS Fund.
News media contact: David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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