There were two opposing news articles that recently caught my eye: one from a UK publication about the beginning of the end of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and another that claims with certainty that we are far from an end to the fight against the disease.
It seems that these articles essentially represent the two very common yet opposing viewpoints people hold about HIV/AIDS…many people believe either that the disease should not hold much public attention, as it is now a non-issue that has mostly been dealt with, or, that it is such an insurmountable issue that there is simply too much work to be done and that no one person or organization can make a dent in the crisis. The problem with each of these viewpoints is that they tend to breed inaction.
The truth is, both sides are very true. There has been incredible medical progress made in recent years, as evidenced by what Justin wrote about earlier this week, but the fact still remains that in Kenya, 1.5 million people are living with HIV/AIDS and that 60% of all orphans in Kenya are directly linked to the AIDS epidemic.
The good news is that we are making progress. Globally and medically, HIV/AIDS doesn’t need to be a death sentence anymore. And in Kenya, we are making incredible strides in the communities where we work. Jennifer’s life is a great example of this…
Jennifer was diagnosed to be HIV positive three years ago. News of her status spread throughout her village, and soon the fear of HIV consumed her community. The fear and rumors erupted publicly one day when she was at work. A neighbor who had heard that Jennifer was positive came to the restaurant where she had ben employed for years. As Jennifer served her neighbor food, the neighbor recognized her, slapped the food out of Jennifer’s hands just as she moved to set it on the table, and began screaming that Jennifer had HIV. The neighbor, ignorant to so many facts, told other customers that if they ate the food that Jennifer had prepared, they, too, would become infected.
Jennifer, embarrassed and devastated from the scene, tried to explain the situation to her employer, but to no avail. She was fired from her job that day.
Three years later, Jennifer sat with me in her home, openly and confidently recounting the drama of that event. When I met her, it was two days before her graduation from the CARE for AIDS program, and she was a vibrant leader in her church and in her community. She rejoiced with her fellow classmates at her graduation, and the shame and fear that burdened her when she was first diagnosed was nowhere to be found. Jennifer had come a long way- her family and community had come a long way, too.
While there is certainly more work to be done, we can confidently press forward with the momentum from stories like Jennifer’s. We are so proud to be part of this progress, and we are thankful to all of our supporters who celebrate with us in successes like these, and press on with us into future progress.