Saturday, December 06, 2008

HIV/AIDS awareness week

I'm back from a bit of a Thanksgiving hiatus, and now it's HIV/AIDS awareness week. Panels of the AIDS memorial quilt are on display all over the United States, including some at local churches.

The Toledo Blade briefly describes the quilt:
The memorial quilt, which started in 1987, is the largest ongoing community arts project in the world and includes more than 40,000 panels to remember those who died from AIDS. Each section is about 12 square feet and consista of eight 3-foot-by-6-foot panels sewn together.

In the United States, the disease first manifested itself among injecting drug users and gay men. The AIDS epidemic officially began, as Wikipedia describes, in the U.S. in 1981, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported unusual clusters of Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) caused by a form of Pneumocystis carinii (now recognized as a distinct species Pneumocystis jirovecii) in five homosexual men in Los Angeles.

Gay men at the time were nearly universally seen as deviant. As a result, there were few organized public efforts to effectively treat the disease. And then, Ryan White, a straight hemophiliac teenager from Indiana who was infected by a blood transfusion brought a different face to the disease. He died from it. However, he also gave the U.S. one of its well-intentioned but ultimately piecemeal health policies, the Ryan White Care Act, that provides federal funding for un- and under-insured victims of the disease.

In contrast, Singapore has a national catastrophic health insurance scheme called Medishield. All working adults pay into the scheme, which covers major hospitalizations and prolonged illnesses. However, it does not cover treatment for HIV/AIDS. Medifund, which is a government-run safety net scheme, also does not cover antiretroviral drugs.

HIV/AIDS is a terrible disease. If untreated it can destroy lives. The stigma associated with the disease and with sexuality basically ensures that the disease will continue to spread and that many people with the disease will remain untreated. By killing people in the primes of their lives, it has a disproportionate impact on national productivity.

And yet, conservatives in the United States continue to insist on abstinence only sex education. They refuse to allow homosexuality to be discussed in public schools. They insist that US funding for international health programs follow the same goals - the President's Emergency Plan For Aids Relief (PEPFAR) started by George Bush mandated that one third of its funding go to abstinence education programs, which are widely regarded to be ineffective.

The facts on the ground are that people will have sex before they are married. Migrant laborers away from their homes may be more likely to use prostitutes. For some women, prostitution is how they feed their children. We should be morally outraged at human trafficking. We should not approve of people cheating on their spouses. But we Christians, in our public acts, should focus on treating the disease first.

Christians mark this as the first week of Advent, where we wait expectantly and prepare diligently for the coming of Jesus Christ. There will be no deus ex machina to save us from HIV/AIDS. There is much hard work to be done on the ground, educating people and distributing life-saving medication. Jesus, when he walked the earth, ate with sinners and outcasts. Let us not be afraid to do the same.

No comments: