This is from my friend.
December 1st is World AIDS Day.
What does that mean to you? Maybe nothing. But I hope after reading this, it will mean something.
It's like Remembrance Day, but for people with HIV/AIDS instead of war veterans. You might not know a war veteran, but you will still remember them on November 11th and appreciate that they fought for your country and your freedom. So, today, December 1st - World AIDS Day. You might not know someone with HIV/AIDS, but let me remind you: there's around 33.4 million of them... wait, let me write the full number 33 400 000, that's the equivalent of Canada's entire population. Two-thirds of these infected people live in sub-Saharan Africa, the same place where there is great poverty and hunger.... something so foreign to us, we can't even begin to imagine.
So why are they worth remembering, you might ask?
I don't know what you think of when you hear HIV/AIDS. In university, I advocated with friends against stigma. Did you think of sex, promiscuity, gays, prostitutes, drug users? That's stigma... associating HIV/AIDS with ideas like these. A friend of mine had bed bugs recently, and was fearful to even tell people about her situation and that she had nowhere to sleep because she didn't want to be thought of as dirty and unclean. Little did she know, that was only a small taste of the fear that those with HIV/AIDS have. Those who reveal their status may be thought to be cursed by witches and contagious just by mere association, are shunned from community, disowned by family, treated as outcasts and scum of society... unless these communities are being educated to not judge others and fear transmission through regular contact, to understand what the disease is and how to prevent its transmission. You know, in Africa and Asia, where there are the most cases of HIV/AIDS, people there are not necessarily sexually hyperactive. There's just as much sex going around here. We just don't live in poverty and are healthier, and so our bodies are more resilient against the transmission of HIV and it's subsequent progression to full blown AIDS. (Daily income: $100-200/day compared to less than $1/day; 3 meals a day versus maybe one meal a day; 10 years for "dormant" HIV to progress to full blown AIDS versus maybe 1-3 years)
HIV/AIDS is a horrendous illness, that weakens your immune system until eventually it just preys upon you, waiting for you to die, because it's made you so weak. Thankfully, there are drugs; though they don't cure AIDS, they at least prolong life, so that one can take care of family and continue living. Not everyone has access, though hard, hard work from the international health community has brought down the price of the drugs and now 4 million people in low and middle income countries have access to HIV treatment. In my opinion, those with HIV/AIDS are beautiful, worthy of love, strong and courageous... and they are fighters. Fighting through the stigma, the consequences of revealing your status... and then becoming so sick until you become so weak you need the drugs... and then if you're lucky enough, you are able to access the drugs and then you have to take multiple drugs at multiple times in a day, for a lifetime. Wow....
Many still aren't well educated, don't know how to prevent transmission, don't have access to drugs or care, still face stigma and fear... so as you remember today, I also ask you to act. You have the opportunity to make a difference. Talk to someone today about HIV/AIDS and tell them what you have learned. Google HIV/AIDS or visit www.unaids.org to learn something yourself . Pray about it. Fast about it.
I challenge you to take it even one step further and make a financial contribution to an AIDS organization. At church this week, our pastor said something really right on. Look to Ephesians 4:28. In God's perspective, the reason for earning money is so that you have something to share with the needy. A lot of us are working now or at least have money, a lot more comparatively than most of those suffering from HIV/AIDS. Can you step up to the challenge? For those at my church already helping with the AIDS care kits, you're awesome. For those wondering who else they can donate to, one organization I highly recommend is the one I worked with in Kenya, called AMPATH (The Academic Model for the Providing Access to Healthcare), serving 23 clinics in Western Kenya. From seeing their work firsthand and the results of their organization (100,000 HIV positive patients enrolled, 30,000 people fed weekly... and much more), I can assure you your money won't be wasted.
Informational video about AMPATH and HIV/AIDS: http://medicine.iu.edu/body.cfm?id=6726
If you're not comfortable giving online, I'm collecting money to give to AMPATH within my circle, and you can pass it on to me.
And I'll leave you with the words of a boy from South Africa - Nkosi Johnson, an 11 year old at the time, who died from AIDS a year after. (He was lucky to live to that age, since he was adopted into a financially better off family. Most children with HIV/AIDS in Africa will die much younger.)
We are all the same.
We are not different from one another.
We all belong to one family.
We love and we laugh, we hurt and we cry, we live and we die.
Care for us and accept us.
We are all human beings.
We are normal.
We have hands.
We have feet.
We can walk, we can talk
-- and we have needs just like everyone else.
Don't be afraid of us.
We are all the same.