South Africa launches agressive response to HIV epidemic

By December 4, 2009

South Africa (MNN) — It's a new era for the AIDS epidemic in South Africa. The country's president announced sweeping new policies that would see more people treated for HIV, as well as a mobilization to test all South Africans for the virus. 

The United Nations estimates that 5.7 million South Africans have HIV, and the disease is responsible for the falling life expectancy in the country.

Teen Missions International is in South Africa's capital, Pretoria. Bob Bland, founder and director of Teen Missions, says this reflects a new attitude toward the stigma of the disease. "They just don't tell people that they have AIDS. So, this is a step forward because of getting people to actually admit that such a thing exists."

In fact, that attitude was furthered by ignorance and government recommendations that did little to treat the severity of the disease. In previous years, a health minister had recommended that people with HIV eat garlic to combat the infection. Other symptoms were treated empirically.

Because of that approach, recent studies estimated that more than 330,000 South Africans died prematurely of AIDS in the last decade because the government did not use AIDS medications and anti-retrovirals.

Aside from the decimation of adult South Africans, a recent UN report showed 1.4 million AIDS orphans in South Africa. It's an overloaded system. Bland says, "It's the children that are suffering because of it. There's no one to protect them and they're very much abused. That has been very much an open door for us." 

Teen Missions hopes that as the orphans sees the practical love of Jesus displayed, they will have a desire to learn more about His love and the plan of salvation.

Because some of the orphans are isolated, their teams take the help to them. Bland says rescue units are  reaching orphans with the hope of Christ and hope for a future. "We're trying not only to get them in school and help them grow vegetables, but also to help them be able to survive."

Many orphans have accepted Christ as their Savior and are eager share it as they mature. At many units, the orphans organize themselves into evangelism teams and go out to share the Gospel in their villages. Teen Missions has expanded into a Sunday school program to aid them in their Christian walk.

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