Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 19, 2003
Scream - before it's too late
Poverty, famine, AIDS kill thousands each and every day
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
Passengers on a small commuter plane are waiting for the flight to leave. They're getting a little impatient, but the airport staff has assured them the pilots will be there soon, and the flight can take off immediately after that.
The entrance opens, and two men walk up the aisle, dressed in pilots' uniforms - both are wearing dark glasses, one is using a seeing-eye dog, and the other is tapping his way up the aisle with a cane.
Nervous laughter spreads through the cabin; but the men enter the cockpit, the door closes and the engines start up. The passengers begin glancing nervously around, searching for some sign that this is just a little practical joke.
None is forthcoming.
The plane moves faster and faster down the runway, and people at the windows realize that they're headed straight for the water at the edge of the airport territory. As it begins to look as though the plane will never take off, that it will plow into the water, panicked screams fill the cabin - but at that moment, the plane lifts smoothly into the air. The passengers relax and laugh a little sheepishly, and soon they have all retreated into their magazines, secure in the knowledge that the plane is in good hands.
Up in the cockpit, the co-pilot turns to the pilot and says, "You know, Bob, one of these days, they're going to scream too late, and we're all gonna die."
The savage regime of Saddam Hussein and the slaughter of innocent people in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, have repeatedly and rightly been condemned.
However, we so easily forget that on Sept. 11 over 6,000 children died from waterborne diseases like gastroenteritis. Billions of dollars have been spent on the so-called "war on terror" while virtually nothing has been spent trying to prevent the deaths of 6,000 children today, tomorrow and everyday.
Our pilots are blind! Maybe it's not too late to scream: "Look at the real weapons of mass destruction!"
The real weapons of mass destruction in today's world are HIV, AIDS, famine and starvation. In Africa alone these plagues devastate the lives of over 30 million people.
The HIV virus, now the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa, is leaving an entire generation without parents. There are 660,000 HIV/AIDS orphans in South Africa, a figure that is set to rise to between two and 2.5 million by 2010 - a staggering one in every six children.
The infrastructure of community care - access to health care, treatment, affordable drugs, and support programs for the infected and affected children - on which hundreds of thousands depend is strained at the seams.
Many of South Africa's Aids orphans need to drop out of school to look after younger siblings; they often become unemployable, and plough families deeper into poverty.
The AIDS orphans of South Africa have so far been unable to look to their government for leadership. President Thabo Mbeki has questioned the link between HIV and AIDS and the effectiveness of anti-retroviral treatments.
Someone has to scream about the global economic injustice: to systems of trade and subsidies which create international debt and prevent impoverished African nations rising out of fragile subsistence, and to the issue of debt repayments.
Furthermore, under the surface are cultural issues - the taboos, gender inequalities, and appalling levels of violence and sexual abuse directed at women and children. Central is gender inequality. Female genital mutilation, polygamy, arranged marriages, social approval of multiple sexual partners for men, and widow disinheritance are all factors placing people at high risk of AIDS.
These are deeply sensitive cultural issues, demanding great sensitivity and insight: a huge and sustained effort will be required to bring gender equality to centre stage in the laws of the countries, in the family environment, in institutions and in social relationships.
Our networking, lobbying and action at national and international levels must be driven by the ethical and moral realization of the infinite value of the life of a poor person.
This life is not worth less than that of someone who can pay for what may be required to cope positively with their HIV status.
Affordable drugs, the anti-retrovirals which can delay for years the onset of AIDS-related illnesses, are vital: first, to prevent mother-to-child transmission; secondly, to keep HIV mothers alive as long as possible; lastly, for the HIV population in general, who can begin to have some hope.
Nevertheless, for anti-retrovirals to take effect, poverty, malnutrition and lack of sanitation, which open the door to opportunistic infections, must be tackled.
If a small fraction of the money that was spent on the war was spent alleviating human suffering and hunger, this would eliminate many of the frustrations that contributed to the events of Sept. 11.
Such initiatives, born of human solidarity and compassion, would touch the lives of millions of people and make the world a much safer place for everyone.
Scream - before it's too late!
However, we so easily forget that on Sept. 11 over 6,000 children died from waterborne diseases like gastroenteritis.
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