I attended mostly because I love hearing whatever our regional missionaries have to say, for I—cliché alert—believed I was pretty informed on how to prevent HIV and AIDS. It turns out my knowledge was pretty stagnant.
As with every gathering here at the 12th assembly of World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women, workshop participants came from across the globe. I was bound to learn, if nothing else, many different perspectives on HIV and AIDS and how both the disease and the people with the disease are treated around the world.
Even the story of the origin of the AIDS virus in humans is different around the world:
- It was transmitted to humans through a breed of African monkey.
- It has been present in Central Africa for centuries but remained undetected do to lack of diagnostic facilities and limited contact with other communities or visitors.
- It was a human experiment gone wrong.
I’ve understood the origin of HIV to be bullet 1: cross-species infection passed from simian to a human. However, scientists are still trying to figure out how AIDS started, for today simian immunodeficiency virus cannot pass to humans—it cannot become human immunodeficiency virus. Nor do any blood samples from Central Africa before 1980 show any evidence of HIV. And little evidence can be found that HIV was part of human experimentation. What this means: we still don't know how HIV came to be.
- 33 million people are currently infected with HIV worldwide, 22 million of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa. South Africa has the highest number of people living with HIV at 5.7 million.
- You cannot get HIV from mosquitoes. In fact, you cannot get HIV from any animal.
- HIV attacks the immune system, making a person vulnerable to opportunistic diseases that the body is then unable to fight off. Even the common cold is a concern for those with HIV.
- Antiviral medication helps reduce the amount of HIV in the blood and helps the immune system remain strong.
- HIV treatments must be accompanied by a healthy diet, which is a concern for developing countries in which proper food is not always available.
- Mothers with HIV can have healthy, uninfected babies. Babies are HIV free more often than they are infected. Precautions include prenatal care, caesarian sections and not breastfeeding the baby.
- A rapid HIV antibody test provides results within 30 minutes.
- Circumcision in men is thought to help reduce the rate of infection by 60%.
- AIDS was first discovered in the United States in 1981.
- The first World AIDS Day was December 1, 1988.
- HIV is transmitted only through sexual intercourse; mother to child before, during or after birth (through breastfeeding); or by blood-to-blood transmission. It is not transferred through saliva, sweat or urine.
- Having sex with a virgin does not cure AIDS, nor does drinking your own urine. HIV is not a curse from God. Despite the president of the Gambia’s claim, LINK there is no cure for AIDS.
- HIV affects all races and all socioeconomic classes.
Abstain from or have protected sex—use condoms consistently and correctly. Be faithful to your sexual partner. Treat sexually transmitted diseases.
Elmira Sellu is currently “on the ground” in Central and sub-Saharan Africa working with communities to educate on, reduce the stigma of, prevent, and treat HIV and AIDS, including creating support groups and ensuring that counseling is available. A support group she helped form in Uganda, Operation Hope, continues to this day and has more than 60 members (not including the children who attend with the women). The beautiful Emma, a member and founding mother of Operation Hope
, graciously shared with us her story of finding out she was HIV positive and told us more about what works about Operation Hope. Had I not been blessed to be here, I wouldn’t have heard Emma speak or learn what I needed to learn from Elmira. United Methodist Women Mission Giving supports Elmira in her good, good work. If you’d like to give supplementary support to Elmira, click here
to visit her donation page.