Sunday, January 4, 2009

Poverty, Bad Times, And HIV-AIDS

An Episcopal priest from northern California, Bill Rankin, is being honored for co-founding the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance, which works on HIV prevention and care in impoverished central Africa. Under the leadership of Daphne Berry, the church I serve has supported GAIA for several years.

The devastation wrought by the disease is still hard to comprehend. The faltering global economy won't make GAIA's work any easier:
AIDS has hit Malawi hard, Rankin said.

"We've been in some villages where there aren't very many people left in the parent generation," he said. He estimates the growth of 40 percent of the children has been stunted by hunger, and said 86 percent of the young girls have been pulled out of school to care for sick family members.

Relying on local religious groups has been a double-edged sword for the alliance.

"The religious groups tend to be good when it comes to encouraging people to take care of the orphans and the people who are sick," Rankin said, "but on the other hand they tend to have a moralistic outlook on condoms and the naive view that says to be in favor of condom use is tantamount to being in favor of promiscuity. The assumption there is that promiscuity is not already a factor."

But Rankin said the biggest challenge people in Malawi face in coping with the AIDS epidemic is the republic's general poverty. He said, for example, most people there rely on ox carts to travel to health clinics during the rainy season - if they can find a cart.

"People die just getting from wherever they are to some kind of facility," Rankin said. If they manage to reach a clinic, it may be out of medical supplies or there may be no qualified medical personnel on hand, he said.

The global economic slowdown will only make matters worse.

Hat tip to Cindy Drennan

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