On Blog for America, Teri Mills (AKA National Nurse) has a guest column on healthcare every Friday. Today her column addresses the AIDS crisis in Africa, and I would like to add my voice to hers in highlighting this important, tragic, but often ignored issue. More details below the jump, but I’d like to put the action items right on top here so they aren’t missed. Please consider doing any or all of the following:

-Add your signature to the One Petition

-Donate what you can to UNICEF’s H.I.V/A.I.D.S. fund

-Help draw attention to this issue by sharing Teri Mills’ column with others

Last, more of an “inaction” item, but it would be great if we could just assume that the usual snarky comment (about how the Bush admin doesn’t really care about this issue because we’re not getting oil from these countries) has already been made. The liberal value of compassion compells us to do more than snark, especially when we can save so many lives by living out our most basic, treasured values.

During the same time that the eight leaders of the big industrialized nations gathered last week in Great Britain, there were 25.4 million HIV infected people in Africa trying desperately to cope with their activities of daily living. An estimated 2.3 million Africans have already succumbed to AIDS, and millions more will die without expanded prevention, treatment and care. The impact on health, education, trade, agriculture, transportation and the economy is just beginning to be felt, and will only worsen in the next ten years unless immediate action is taken.

The saddest reality affects the children of Africa. There are 1.8 million orphans living in Nigeria and an additional 1.1 million in South Africa and these are only two countries in Africa. The age of these orphans is fairly consistent across all African countries. Surveys suggest that overall about 15% of orphans are 0-4 years old, 35% are 5-9 years old, and 50% are 10-14 years old. Children also are unable to get the education they will need to survive in the 21st century as many of their teachers are ill or have already died of the disease. The vast majority of people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa are between the ages of 15 and 49 – in the prime of their working lives.

Okay, so what can we do about it?

As progressives we can begin to make a difference by adding our names to the One Petition “WE BELIEVE that in the best American tradition of helping others help themselves, now is the time to join with other countries in a historic pact for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of the world overcome AIDS and extreme poverty. WE RECOGNIZE that a pact including such measures as fair trade, debt relief, fighting corruption and directing additional resources for basic needs–education, health, clean water, food, and care for orphans–would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation in the poorest countries, at a cost equal to just one percent more of the US budget. WE COMMIT ourselves–one person, one voice, one vote at a time–to make a better, safer world for all.”

Unicef is also making a concentrated effort to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and is attempting to raise $100 million to provide care for orphans and children inflicted with the AIDS virus. Consider joining their efforts, as one by one we come together to end the suffering.

On a somewhat more personal level, I first became more aware of the extent of this crisis was at a town hall meeing at a local Episcopal church.  The St. James newsletter archive does not go back as far as September 2004, but I was able to find this in an Outlook News piece about the meeing. It, too, is apparently no longer available on the Outlook News web site, but I found what I needed in Google cache:

From an article entitled, “Church in crisis, conversation over gay bishop”

(Emphasis mine)

“I felt that the vote (to elect Gene Robinson Bishop of New Hampshire) was taken out of context,” said Deborah Stokes, a Westerville resident and a seven time veteran delegate to the Episcopal General Convention. “We dealt with issues like the poor and dying, those experiencing violence and trauma – this is miniscule.”

When convened the triennial General Convention is the world’s largest deliberative body, said Bob Goodrich, Pastor of St. James and organizer of the town meeting. Approximately 6,500 delegates looked at some 300 pieces of legislation over 10 days July 30-Aug. 8.

Issues that “didn’t make CNN” included genetic research, restitution for slavery, war and a vote authorizing shareholder activism using the Church Pension Fund to influence American pharmaceutical companies to relinquish patent rights to speed medication to those with HIV and AIDS in Africa, said Newark delegate Rev. Vicki Zust.

More about the General Convention stance on HIV/AIDS can be found here.

A few months later, Glenna Jackson from the Religion and Philosophy Department at Otterbein University came to speak at my church. When speaking about her travel to Zimbabwe to teach a course at Africa University, she shared her first hand knowledge of what the A.I.D.S. epidemic has done to that country. Although the situation she described was heartbreaking, Dr. Jackson also described the joy she saw when she visited Zimbabwe. Walking down the road, I recall her saying, if you saw one woman washing clothes in the stream, she would be singing. If  there were two, it would be a duet…if there were three, a trio. She surprised me by saying that, if she could get her whole family to come with her, she would move to Zimbabwe in a heartbeat.

It was fascinating to hear the stories Glenna told. Mind you, as cranky as I was about the heat in Austin last month, I have no great desire to travel there myself. But hearing Glenna’s stories and seeing the pictures she shared with us did something very important for me. It showed me the faces and the stories of people in another continent. No longer could they be just a vague idea in my mind, They are our brothers and sisters–part of our human family. When they call out for help, how can fail to answer them?

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