HomeDREAMWashington: The role played by religions in the fight against AIDS
27 - Apr - 2006

In my view, today it is of great importance to ask ourselves questions together about the role religions may play in the struggle against AIDS, especially as regards Africa and poor countries. HIV infection cannot simply be relegated to being just another of a category of health problems; still less can it be limited to the scientific questions it raises. AIDS presents a dramatic threat to the development and very future of the continent. AIDS questions and challenges the hope of millions of people and their families. Unfortunately, millions of other young adult lives – the most important age group from the perspective of income and the family – have already been consumed by the raging fire of the epidemic. Most worrying is the reality that far from being extinguished, the infection maintains all its driving force: a very recent UNAIDS report, from 2005, reveals that the incidence of new infections is still higher than the death rate, at a rate of 0.8 million units: 3.2 million new infections and 2.4 deaths.
Well, this difference is only a little less than that recorded in 2002, revealing that the epidemic trend is not slowing down. Moreover, AIDS must not be seen only in terms of the victims it kills, but rather in the context of the chain of consequences linked to these deaths. When a young adult dies in Africa, at least one orphan is “born”: there are more than 16 million today. When a young woman dies, the lives of all her children are at risk. And there are no reliable statistics on the deaths of infants somehow related to the decease of their fathers or mothers. The same UNAIDS report further states that by 2020, the workforce of four African countries will be slashed by more than 30%, while those of many others will be reduced by between 10 to 20%. This fact cannot but have repercussions for their Gross Domestic Products, from which two percentage points are deducted per year because of the disease. A study by the World Bank undertaken in 2004 calculated that the GDP of countries like South Africa could actually be halved within a few decades.

Faced with such terrible news, that often induces fear and provokes resigned or simplistic responses, as Christians and believers, we felt challenged. It is the challenge of evil to the good news of the Gospel, to its force of good and healing, a challenge to loving the life of each and every person. We asked ourselves, as men and women of faith, if it would be possible to work today for a modern miracle of healing and liberation from evil. Thus was born DREAM, Drug Resource Enhancement against AIDS and Malnutrition, a programme to fight against the pandemic, designed and managed by the Community of Sant’Egidio since 2002. In six African countries – Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Guinea Conakry and Bissau – more than 25,000 HIV-positive patients are miraculously alive, thanks to DREAM treatment. Soon, other countries too will see the emergence of centers run by the program, especially Angola, Congo and Nigeria that has very recently signed a general implementation agreement. There is a widespread notion prevailing in public opinion: that a victory over AIDS is exclusively linked to scientific research and the discovery of some “magic bullet” – a vaccine or a drug – that will resolve the problem once and for all. However it is not so, as those getting into the inextricable tangle of related problems will realize. The first of these problems is doubtless that of poverty: individual poverty, which implies not only that a person cannot pay for treatment, but also that he/she is unable to physically access treatment centers. Further, poor people do not have a culture and fundamental concepts geared towards prevention, nor can t


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