“Is HIV actually still a problem?” This is the question I get asked more than anything else. I don’t fault the asker because it isn’t a problem we hear much about. But, as my friend Kevin Scott says, “The way we view things changes how we do things.” At CARE for AIDS, we can’t expect someone to respond generously or urgently to our work unless they have a right understanding of the state of this epidemic.
Each of my trips to Kenya seems to have a central idea that presents itself over and over again. In my recent trip, I was reminded constantly this disease has not lost its teeth as many might seem to believe. HIV still has the ability to strip a person of everything and reduce them to nothing. There are few things like it in the world. To lose your health, livelihood, marriage, and all social connections because of a disease is unfathomable, but it still happens everyday.
I want to introduce you to Elizabeth. I sat in her home and listened, in disbelief, to the story of how her life just disintegrated around her. It was obvious she was highly educated because she spoke perfect English, and she had been employed at a local hotel. But, her employer suspected she was HIV-positive, so she was let go from her job. Due to an infection she contracted, she began to experience extreme weight loss, and at her lowest weight, she weighted 77 lbs. Her husband said he could not be with someone so sick and skinny, so he left Elizabeth and their two kids and married another woman. He was convinced she would die very soon. In a short time, she lost her health, job, marriage, and any semblance of dignity or value she had left.
I know this sounds like a bleak picture, but her story wasn’t over. Thanks to the attentive care from our staff, she has resolved any medical issues and has already gained 50 lbs. Unfortunately, her ex-husband, who was convinced of her imminent death, has already passed away. Her confidence is shaken to say the least, but she is learning who she is in Christ and what she is capable of with Him - two things she seemed to have forgotten.
Elizabeth’s story is not an isolated experience but representative of countless stories I’ve heard just like hers. This story is not meant to diminish the progress we have made in the fight against HIV globally, but a reminder that this ugly disease is alive and well in East Africa where many people are still suffering in silence. This disease and those living with it like Elizabeth still deserve our best attention and effort.
So, to answer your question, “Yes, HIV is still very much a problem.”