Beliefs Have Serious Consequences, Part 3
In my previous posts, I have discussed important topics like slavery and circumcision. Here is an issue that is more closely a matter of life and death: AIDS.
By the Numbers
HIV/AIDS (or human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome) directly impacts over 37 million people worldwide. An estimated five thousand people are infected every day through unprotected sex, blood transfusions, sharing of needles, mother to child via pregnancy or delivery or breastfeeding. Presently, no known cure or vaccine is available. There are, however, antiretroviral treatments that slow the course of the virus and allow a person to live a normal life expectancy. Average lifespan of someone with the disease who has not received treatment is eleven years.
A Horrific Picture
In particular, this is an epidemic in Africa, with more than 25.6 million people living with HIV as of 2015. An estimated 66% of new infections are in Sub-Saharan Africa. One hundred and sixty thousand children carry the infection. Only sixty percent of people that have HIV, actually know they have it. Fourteen million people are without access to HIV testing (much less treatment) facilities.
Why is this a problem? Because over 1 million people died from AIDS in 2016 alone, bringing the total number of deaths brought on by AIDS since the start of the epidemic to 35 million.
This is a larger problem in poorer, less sanitary parts of the world because AIDS has made people in these areas more susceptible to sicknesses--like tuberculosis which causes approximately 1 in 3 of AIDS related deaths.
AIDS contributes to the already desperate situation of orphans and widows, torn apart families and communities, towns and countries plagued by war and crisis.
The short list for preventing HIV is:
- Have less/less risky sex
- Get tested if you think you are at risk
- Limit your sexual partners
- Use condoms
- Get treated for STDs
- Don't inject drugs
Impact of the Catholic Church
Enter the main antagonist in our story. And just like most villains, he's not all bad--he's got a cool, hip side to him. He's smooth-talking and good looking. But that smile hides his evil so well.
I'm not in-depth expert of the Catholic Church. I was raised Protestant and never really cared about the Catholic church because of their difference in doctrine. I do, however, through extensive research, know the impact they have, and the part they have directly played in the ever increasing epidemic in Africa over AIDS. But before I dive into it, I must say I do not hold all Catholics to the same standard. Most Catholics are of a jolly and amiable nature and would never purposefully cause anyone malice. Most Catholics would make acceptable friends and excellent neighbors.
In addition, the church has going for it, a vast reaching ministry to the poor, sick, disabled, and needy throughout the world, with many Catholic organizations providing much needed, food, safety, medical assistance, and therapy to those beset by malady and circumstance. Without these organizations, many would starve and die.
Unfortunately, this is not the only side to the church. Much of its history has been one of vile vengeance of those it found distasteful, unfit, and threatening (which might be a future post all in itself).
The church is also vastly wealthy and easily the most powerful and influential religion in the world with over 1.2 billion professed Catholics. When weighed with all its power, prestige, fame, and wealth, the impact of its charity seems a little underwhelming if not downright embarrassing.
Along with the same vein as above, the Pope and his close followers, have significant sway in politics in many countries and international organizations. Yet for all the magnificent good he could do, it seems also to be a poor show. The Pope (whether that be the current or any of the previous) seems to be more focused on political and theological issues than really changing the lives of its parish, domestic and foreign.
In particular, my quarrel within this post lies with the Catholic church's unyielding stance against condoms, which in turn has left Africa to ruin in the HIV epidemic, and instead of taking ownership and reaching out to help--the Catholic church has blamed the gays.
It was Pope Joseph Ratzinger, notorious for his cover-up of the child abuse in the Catholic church for years and not taking a firm hand to help the law indict the perpetrators, who said about contraception and its role in preventing disease:
"... cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems"
Aggravates the problems? What nonsense! No doubt this reasoning is similar to that of an Archbishop in Nairboi, Raphael Ndingi Mwana a'Nzeki who said that condoms, far from protecting people, actually contribute to the disease. This is hogwash.
I found the experience and personal testimony of one person especially helpful in my research about the Catholic Church, Stephen Fry. The below segment is taken from an intellectual summit, where debaters argued the pros and cons of the Catholic Church and its good in the world, whether it should continue to exist in its current capacity or should disband. The summit had no actual impact on Catholic politics but was held to change the minds of those participating.
Here is Fry's approach on the subject:
Besides all the above information, many international health organizations have made a real goal of trying to combat the epidemic in Africa, and are succeeding. Those currently involved that I found with a quick search, and their impact are:
- PERFAR (U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) "is the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease internationally"
- National Institutes of Health, with the largest public investment into HIV/AIDS research worldwide
- amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, which is doing research into curing HIV/AIDS through multiple grants, research facilities, and a team of dedicated scientists worldwide
- AVERT, an organization dedicated to "increasing knowledge and understanding of HIV and AIDS, so people can make informed choices and live healthily."
Although the tone of this post might have been somewhat harsh and negative, I hope it can call my reader to action. Organizations like the ones I mentioned above have made a real and living difference in the lives or people like you and me. Consider becoming a contributor to one of these organizations, or at least informing yourself more about the needs in Africa and the rest of the world. Thanks for reading.