Africa (MNN) — When you hear the word "disaster" in the news, it's often in reference to an earthquake, a tsunami, or some other weather-related terror. One of the largest disasters of our time, however, is often given credence as such: the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
"Normally we think about hurricanes and volcanoes and earthquakes, but in fact, one of the worst disasters we're facing in the world today is this epidemic," confirms Bas Vanderzalm with Medical Teams International. "More than 36 million people around the world are infected with HIV, and 25 million people have died from AIDS since it started about 15 years ago."
To put that large number in perspective, in 15 years AIDS has killed more people than live in the entire nation of Mozambique. An entire country's worth of people have been wiped out by one lethal disease.
Mozambique is just one of the nations Medical Teams International has entered to help reverse the once rising trend of HIV/AIDS. By training church leaders in AIDS prevention, the ministry has been a key part in significantly decreasing the infection rates within the areas that it works.
"In Uganda where we're working, at one time the infection rate was above 30 percent in a number of the communities where we were involved. That's an enormous rate when you think almost one in three people are infected with HIV," notes Vanderzalm. "But with the work of churches in the communities there, we've educated people about what this disease can do and how to prevent it. And now the rate of infection is less than six percent."
The drastic transformation could not have happened if it weren't for churches stepping up to take the lead in AIDS education and prevention. "Churches can educate, churches can care for people affected by the disease, and churches can show Jesus' love both in practical ways and in praying for people as well."
The AIDS training has been instrumental in evangelism as well. "You cannot just go into a community and tell people that Jesus loves them, and not care about their physical needs as well," explains Vanderzalm. These physical needs of course include AIDS, but since the infection is predominantly found in poorer areas, it has also been vital for churches to become involved with health centers, clean water projects, and the like.
As churches have been able to care for the physical needs of those around them, they have in time been entrusted with spiritual needs. The Gospel is spreading as Medical Teams International continues their ministry.
Extreme advances have been made when it comes to combating HIV/AIDS, but the disaster is still not at an end. 36 million people still suffer from the disease, and many of them are in need of a Savior. You can join hands in the battle through prayer and by assisting Medical Teams International in their work. Learn more about the ministry's AIDS program here.