When you hear the word AIDS, what image pops into your mind?
Is it the disease itself, an angry-looking virus with malicious intent? A legendary basketball superstar? What about a thin, frail, aging, gay man?
I can show you my picture. Here is my picture of AIDS.
I vividly remember this kiddo. He was one of the many I took care of in a rural Kenyan hospital. He had PCP pneumonia, a specific lung disease that kills young children suffering with AIDS. I remember talking to his mother with a swahili interpreter. She was unaware that her son had the virus, and unaware that she was the one who transferred the disease to him while she was pregnant. The conversation quickly turned from discussing her little boy’s impending death to a discussion about her own. And a discussion of her husband, who likely gave her the virus. And of the other 4 wives of this man, and the likelihood of their infection.
The daily tragedy of those living in these African communities is that the stigma of HIV/AIDS is so negative and its presence so deadly, people would rather not know they are carrying the virus.
Mothers don’t want to know if their children have HIV. They don’t want to know about the status of their partners. They don’t want to know about prevention. They don’t want to know about the virus.
All the people of this community understood that the label of AIDS was a death sentence. And there is no cure.
For some people of our world, the fear of the HIV is so great that it is only whispered about, if talked about at all. This level of intentional denial is a problem that money itself can’t fix. AIDS education, and the changing of a cultural lifestyle, will require loud voices and bold choices. My prayer on World AIDS Day is that voices speak, barriers are removed, and discussion of this disease turns from terror to hope.
I really want the picture in my mind to change.
Thank you to the people of Africa who allowed us to be part of their journey. You will never be forgotten.