Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 16, 2001
Radical shift needed to stop AIDS
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
About 20 years ago the world first heard about AIDS, the epidemic that has spread to every corner of the world. It has killed almost 22 million people.
The United Nations General Assembly recently held a special assembly on HIV/AIDS. Today, more than 36 million people worldwide are infected and to date the world's response has not measured up to the challenge.
The announcement of the creation of a World AIDS and Health Fund is a motive of hope for everyone.
The fearsome spread of AIDS is inscribed in a social world marked by a serious crisis of values. In this domain, as in others, the international community cannot ignore its moral responsibility.
On the contrary, in the fight against this epidemic, it must be inspired by a constructive vision of the dignity of the human person and must invest in our youth, helping them to grow towards a responsible emotional maturity.
The transmission of HIV/AIDS from mother to child is an extremely sad question. In developing countries, especially in Africa, those who are born with this infection are numerous and the estimates are that the disease has left 13 million children orphaned.
A second long-standing problem has been the lack of access of AIDS patients to medical care and, in the measure possible, to anti-viral therapies. The price of these medications is excessive, sometimes exorbitant, with regard to the possibilities of citizens of the poorest countries. This question includes diverse economic and juridical aspects, among which are certain interpretations of intellectual property rights.
Nevertheless, given the right of each individual to health, everyone can rejoice in many of the important agreed upon positions enunciated in final Declaration of Commitment, for example:
11. Recognizing that poverty, underdevelopment and illiteracy are among the principal contributing factors to the spread of HIV/AIDS, . . .
12. Noting that armed conflicts and natural disasters also exacerbate the spread of the epidemic, . . .
13. Noting further that stigma, silence, discrimination, and denial, as well as the lack of confidentiality, undermine prevention, care and treatment efforts, . . .
Predictably, the final declaration goes on to mention the need for strong leadership at all levels; the establishment of targets to achieve global prevention goals; care, support and treatment as fundamental to an effective response; human rights; reducing vulnerability, an increased annual expenditure on the epidemic, etc.
However, no. 23 is a key proposition: "Recognizing that effective prevention, care and treatment strategies will require behaviour changes and increased availability of non-discriminatory access to inter alia, vaccines, condoms, microbicides, lubricants, sterile injecting equipment, drugs including anti-retrovtral therapy, diagnostics and related technologies as well as increased research and development."
However, I doubt that the words "behaviour changes" mean the same thing to me as they do the writers of the declaration.
I find myself empathizing with the Libyan Ambassador Abuzed Omar Dorda who argues that it is important to ensure that the international community will address factors, such as poverty, poor education and distancing from religious values in relation to the disease. Homosexual activity is one of the main causes of the disease.
At the same time UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan argued that homosexuals are human beings with human rights that ought to be respected. They should not face discrimination once they are infected, including being dropped from their jobs or ostracized. A point well taken!
Nevertheless, consider for a moment the 1999 Health Canada Statistics regarding who has HIV/AIDS in Canada. Men who have sex with men (MSM) number 29,800; injection drug users (IDU) - 9,700; combined MSM-IDU - 2,100; heterosexuals - 8,000; others - 400.
A clear-sighted assessment of the situation would suggest that we look not only at the phenomenon of HIV/AIDS but that we seriously begin to attack the causes of the disease. Epidemiological studies continue to show that, in the great majority of cases, the virus is spread especially in one of two ways; either by homosexual relations or through the intravenous use of illicit drugs.
Too many health officials and politicians have opted for lifestyle acceptance. At best, they seek to reduce the rate of which the disease is spreading by setting up programs for free distribution of sterile syringes and urging the systematic usage of condoms.
It's politically correct to work at reducing the numbers. Therefore, throw money at the problem - provide clean syringes and free condoms - why not march in parades, after all, there are votes at stake.
However, such preventive measures do not get at the real roots of our societal problem. Our spiritual and religious tradition situates the problem in a more human context. In the final analysis, one must call upon the moral and spiritual values of human love and sexuality. Permissiveness in intimate relations is literally "a dead end."
A radical change in popular attitudes is both possible and necessary. Many in recent years have become convinced of the need to embrace a simpler, healthier lifestyle in order to enjoy a fuller, longer life. We are already changing deep-rooted habits in eating, drinking, smoking and exercise.
How much greater is the necessity to rediscover the joy of faithful love and lasting marriage. It calls for self-discipline, restraint and a new awareness. Such a profound change in society also needs a comprehensive campaign of public education and persuasion.
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