HIV/AIDS – the early days
I will preface this post by saying that I am not a medical expert but am basing the post on my observations as I have been affected by HIV/AIDS like everyone else in Zambia. I also want to say that in this post I have looked at HIV/AIDS in relation to the Church because the Church can make a big or bigger difference in the reduction of prevention.
I first heard of HIV around 1985 and even then it was a Ugandan disease that affected prostitutes. I knew it could be transmitted to others but Uganda is so far from Zambia and I did not really expect it to ‘travel’ all the way to my beloved country. It came as a shock to hear that HIV had spread to Zambia and did not discriminate – the sexually immoral, those that did not mess around and newly born babies. I first knew of ‘suspected’ AIDS patients around 1990, but there was no proof. However, what made me believe that HIV/AIDS was among us was the high number of people that were not only falling ill for prolonged periods but the sudden spike in people I personally knew dying.
Work by NGOs
A lot of NGOs sprang up to tackle the disease through various ways. Some distributed condoms and provided education to street workers, others gave ARVs to patients while others promoted testing, among other things. Many of them have done a very good job in spreading information about prevention and managing HIV/AIDS.
What is the Church’s position on HIV prevention?
I left Zambia several years ago. Things may have changed so what I have written may be obsolete. The Church (in general, not one congregation or denomination) was quite good at helping those who had AIDS and supported them during the times they were ill. One thing I thought the Church had very well and this to me, was even more important, was to teach the congregation about prevention. Most Zambians go to Church every Saturday/Sunday and the pastors can talk about HIV prevention and managing AIDS so that all aspects of life are covered, not only spiritual ones. The pastors can also invite experts to teach if they are not comfortable doing so themselves or are not knowledgeable enough. Congregants are affected by HIV. Congregants are also being infected with HIV and these congregants are dying at an alarming rate.
I believe the Church should also strongly encourage HIV testing for people who want to get married. Why should people get married before man and God only to be buried within a couple of years? The Church can help reduce unnecessary deaths. What about those denominations that do not believe in using protection, you ask. That is a difficult question, but I would respond by asking if the very God who created us is happy to see them dying before their time and leaving very young orphans behind. However, I do realize that using protection at the end of the day is a very personal thing.
I believe in prayer but there are times we need to do something as prayer is not enough. The Church using its voice as a leader in educating the masses will go a long way in combating the spread of HIV.
I have an older Church friend whose husband died from AIDS, this time I did not need to suspect as she confided in me herself. We happened to talk about HIV and I mentioned that I would not be intimate with anyone without protection if I did not know his HIV status. The woman was shocked and advised me not to insist the man has a test as he could change his mind and leave me. I told her that I would rather he left me than for me to get HIV from him. She was not happy with my stance. Her opinion made me wonder because, I mean, here is this woman, a Church leader, whose husband died of AIDS and she is advising me not to go for a test? This made me think that we really need education not only for congregants but more so for Church leaders.
Is there hope for Zambia?
There is hope for Zambia. We can not lose hope, throw up our hands and say there is nothing we can do since some people still act recklessly. The Church should continue teaching from the pulpit and I believe this will help people be more accepting of the illness and reduce stigma and the rate of infection.
My conclusion – somewhat
The last couple of decades have been very tough for Zambians because of the AIDS scourge, but I am grateful to the inventors of ARVs as I know people whose lives have been sustained by those medicines. I am also grateful to the family members and others, especially the very young ones, who have had to step in as carers of patients.