The Challenge of the HIV Pandemic and the Healing Power of Hope…
July 2007 - Johannesburg .... [AAIM Staff]
Sick people are usually surrounded, embraced and encouraged, by the love of their families and supported by their communities. Church members rally to assist, enveloping the affected in a warm blanket of love. At least this is what we acknowledge the true Christian response should be. Or what the Christian response should normally be, however the condition of HIV/AIDS is seen by many as an exception to the rule. Many church members seem to believe that it is acceptable or even desirable, to censure those infected by HIV.
The stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS remains a reality in many regions, and sadly this stigma is often strongest in Christian communities. Church leaders in some of the worst affected countries in the world, situated in Southern Africa, have received sincere questions from local church boards, seeking advice on what the church should do “to” rather than what they should do “for” the afflicted. This air of condemnation adds to the already significant burden of those infected and/or affected by HIV and AIDS.
The challenge of HIV and AIDS has grown to the extent that AIDS related causes are now the leading cause of death in Africa and the fourth largest cause of death worldwide. The number of people infected and affected continues to increase in both Africa and other parts of the world. A recent news report noted that for every one person entering therapy, six people were newly infected.
Adventist AIDS International Ministry (AAIM) (a mission established by the General Conference of theSeventh-day Adventist Church, as the Church’s response to the challenge of HIV and AIDS) is implementing a program to ensure that SDA churches become havens of hope and healing, rather than centres of censure and rejection.
AAIM opened its office in Johannesburg South Africa during January 2004. This office serves the three Adventist African Divisions that together cover sub-Saharan Africa. While only about 10 % of the world’s population lives in sub-Saharan Africa, the region is home of approximately 64% or in other words almost two thirds of all of the people in the world now living with HIV
The AAIM program has in the past three and a half years already been introduced in 17 African and Indian Ocean countries, and is expected to reach its twentieth country by the end of August 2007. AAIM’s goal is to empower churches to be able to meet the challenges of the pandemic at a grassroots level, and to help church members reach their surrounding communities as was shown by Jesus to be the response required of Christians where in Mathew 25:35-36 He said, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” The program provides churches with the tools necessary to assist their communities in providing Prevention, Care and Impact Mitigation.
AAIM’s action plan is to encourage, and then empower churches so that they can become HIV/AIDS support centres for their local community through the organization of “Church Based HIV/AIDS Support Groups.” Church and community sensitization programs precede the mobilization of the congregation. Love and compassion are the main drivers of this plan. In carrying the program forward the directors of AAIM, Drs. Oscar and Eugenia Giordano, have on numerous occasions witnessed first hand the incredible healing power of love.
Medical personal are able to provide powerful therapies, capable of ensuring that people infected with HIV can live long and productive lives. Unfortunately the efficacy of treatment is often impaired by the stigma surrounding the disease. The infected are reluctant to seek medical assistance until the disease has progressed beyond the point at which treatment can be effectively implemented. For those who do receive good treatment, on time, the effect of rejection is still a broken spirit leading to an impaired life. The directors of AAIM have regularly noted that many of those infected with HIV are not dying from the infection, but rather from a lack of appropriate care, nutrition and support. They have found that social support is a key factor in the improvement of the health of a person living with HIV and AIDS or any other chronic disease.
An example of the healing power of hope was powerfully experienced in the life of Maseeng. (See her story on the homepage) The directors of AAIM met Maseeng in Lesotho when she participated in a sewing seminar, provided by AAIM as part of an income generating project for those affected and/or infected by HIV. When they met Maseeng she was already receiving treatment with ARVs, but despite this she remained thin, pale and when talking to her one could immediately sense that she was hurting
Throughout the seminar, as the participants felt loved and accepted, they began to share their personal stories with the rest of the group. As Maseeng realised that she was loved and accepted for who she was, she too began to open up to the group. She told them that she had once been a school teacher but that she had been infected with HIV. With the progression of the infection she became weaker, and discouraged to the point where she just wanted to give up on life. Through the love, acceptance and prayers of the seminar-participants, Maseeng found healing form loneliness and despair. This acceptance brought about a dramatic change in Maseeng. By the end of the seminar she was not only smiling and singing with the rest of the ladies but dancing for joy!
Maseeng decided that she was not just going to lie down and die but that she was going to live positively with HIV. She dedicated her life to making a difference to others. Now in the mornings, in a room the size of a single garage Maseeng runs a pre-primary school for over 50 children. In the afternoons, after the children have left, she runs a sewing class for ladies from her village, and on Sabbaths this same room is an Adventist church to 13 people. Looking at her broad smile and listening to her infectious laughter it is difficult to believe that she is living with HIV. Maseeng is a living centre of love and hope, and just one of many examples of the healing power of love and acceptance.
By establishing HIV support centres, Adventist Churches can make a very real contribution, not only to the spiritual wellbeing of those infected by HIV but also to their physical wellbeing. The support centres can help combat ignorance, ensure that those infected seek treatment before that disease progresses to far, assist in ensuring treatment preparedness and help to motivate those on treatment adhere to the prescribed treatment regime. With in-excess of four million members, in more than sixteen thousand churches and groups spread throughout Africa, together with hundreds of educational and medical institutions, the Adventist church is in a position to make a very significant contribution to the fight against HIV and AIDS in Africa. Following the introduction of AAIM programs, silence, denial and the stigma of HIV/AIDS has been broken in hundreds of SDA congregations. Church members have increasingly become involved in helping those infected and/or affected by the epidemic.
AAIM implements training programs for Pastors, Elders, Church and Community Members. The focus of these programs is on HIV/AIDS Education & Prevention, HIV and AIDS Counselling, Care (Home Based Care and Orphan Care), and Impact Mitigation through income generating activities that empower people infected and affected by HIV sustain themselves and live dignified lives.
AAIM has programs for youth, and other significantly affected groups such as women. There is also a program for older women; especially grandmothers who receive special attention from AAIM with the establishment of “grandmothers’ clubs.” It is important to recognise that grandmothers in Africa are the primary caregivers for their children infected with HIV, and then when they die the grandmothers continue to care for the orphaned grand-children. Without proper knowledge the grandmothers can themselves easily become infected.
Through the work of AAIM several Unions and Conferences in Africa have appointed National HIV/AIDS Coordinators that are helping to ensure the success of the HIV/AIDS programs in their region.
AAIM takes care to promote the “Jesus’ Method”. E.G. White wrote: “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them ‘Follow me’.” 
AAIM is bringing hope and saving lives one person at a time, field by field, church by church, member by member, on a one to one basis.
AAIM’s dream is to see our churches transformed into “Centres of Hope and Healing”, where people can come with the confidence that they will be received with love and acceptance.
This article was written by Dr. Oscar Giordano, MD., MPH. – Executive Director of AAIM, Dr. Eugenia Giordano, MD., MPH. - Associate Director of AAIM, and Courtenay Harebottle - AAIM’s HIV/AIDS Consultant. July 2007.-
 The Global Fund. July 2007 Fact Sheet accessible at: www.theglobalfund.org/en/about/aids
 Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, his presentation at the Fourth International AIDS Society Conference in Sydney, Australia. July 2007
 Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). 2006 report on the global AIDS epidemic. Geneva, Switzerland: UNAIDS; 2006
 The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.
 E.G. White in her book, The Ministry of Healing, p. 143. 1905