Today, Sunday 1st December 2019, the world commemorates World AIDS Day. It is a day to show love, to reflect, and to commit ourselves even more valiantly to the fight against this destructive malady. This year’s event is themed “Communities Make the Difference.” It is a call to stand in solidarity with people living with HIV and AIDS all over the world and to remember those we have lost as a result of AIDS.
Through the Universal Apostolic Preferences 2020-2029 unveiled in February 2019 by Fr Arturo Sosa, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits choose to stand with the poor and the vulnerable of our time, such as people affected and infected by HIV and AIDS. In this way, Jesuits and their collaborators all over the world show genuine concern, love, support and accompaniment of those affected by HIV and AIDS. In Africa, the Society of Jesus organizes its efforts against this human condition through the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN). The AJAN HIV and AIDS Prevention Programme has been expanding its outreach to schools and social centres with the conviction that education and empowerment of the young generation are important answers to HIV infection and a prerequisite for a dignified and responsible life.
Efforts at stemming the spread of HIV have been significant in areas such as awareness creation, psychosocial support and medical care for the infected and affected. Although neither a cure nor a vaccine is available, tremendous efforts and good progress towards fighting the pandemic have been achieved over the years. UNAIDS 2019 Fact sheet shows a significant drop in the spread of the virus across the world. In 2004 (which was the peak of the pandemic), about 1.7 million people succumbed to AIDS while in 2018, 770,000 people died globally because of it. The infection rates have also dropped from their peak values of 2.9 million in 1997 to current levels which are 40% less at 1.7 million people in 2018. Worth noting also is that as of 2018, new infections among children have considerably dropped from their 2010 levels by 41%. In all, there has been a reduction of mortality due to HIV and AIDS by 33% between 2010 and 2018.
From 2018 estimations, about 37.9 million people live with HIV (PLWHIV) in the world. Of these, 8.1 million are unaware of their status. At end of June 2019, an estimated 24.5 million people had access to Anti-Retroviral drugs (ARVs). While these figures seem promising, the crisis is not averted in Africa, as an astounding 68% of the infected still live in Africa. Hence, 25.6 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are infected by the HIV virus.
Even more confounding is the fact that 54% of PLHIV do not have access to ARVs. With these numbers in mind, there is no gainsaying that the pandemic has not been stemmed in sub-Saharan Africa.
It is important that governments, church and local communities continue to be vigilant about these persisting trends so that a lasting solution could be found through collective effort. Researchers, caregivers, communities and funders are encouraged not to relent because the vulnerable need us more than ever. Nourished by our faith and as Fr Arturo Sosa invited participants in the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Jesuit Social Justice and Ecology office, which brought together over 200 Jesuits and lay collaborators from all over the globe, let us “take audacious, bold and risky decisions to accompany Jesus and his people at the frontiers, together with the most excluded, poor, and vulnerable”. Our religious conviction, therefore, must urge us to accompany the people on the road and combine our efforts for a reconciled and better world.
As we commemorate this World AIDS Day 2019 and remind ourselves of the need for collaboration, may we be guided by the inspiring examples of saints such as Ignatius of Loyola who spent his life in Rome, caring for the poor, the sick, orphans and prostitutes while administering the Society of Jesus as its first Superior General; Aloysius Gonzaga who died taking care of the victims of leprosy, Anuarite Nengapeta who was killed because she strived to preserve her virginity by resisting to rape; and Pedro Arrupe who, touched by the tragedy of refugees fleeing their war-ravaged homeland, urged the Jesuits to bring at least some relief to such a disastrous situation. His efforts resulted in the founding of the Jesuit Refugee Service. They stood for the vulnerable and poor of their societies. Let us deepen our relationship with God by accepting to engage in supporting and empowering the weak and helpless in our societies.
Rev. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator SJ
President, Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar(JCAM)