Since it was first identified in 1981, AIDS has grown from a new, unknown disease affecting only five patients into a worldwide pandemic that has touched almost 75 million people—out of which 36 million have died.1
According to the World Health Organization, there were 35.3 million people infected with HIV worldwide in 2012.2
Thanks to the combined therapy called highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), AIDS is no longer a death sentence; but there is still no cure. The virus continues to spread, and every day more than 6,000 people are infected worldwide.3
Following the example and teachings of Jesus, the Seventh-day Adventist Church realized its obligation to help meet the needs of church members and the general community infected and/or affected by HIV and AIDS, as well as to prevent new infections. As a result, the General Conference voted in May 2002 to create an HIV/AIDS office based in Johannesburg, South Africa, called Adventist AIDS International Ministry (AAIM). The epidemic is strongest in the southern region of Africa, and so the mandate of AAIM is to serve the three church divisions in that area and to collaborate with other fields.
In January 2004, soon after the beginning of AAIM’s operations in Johannesburg, the organization’s leaders decided that because of the distinct nature and characteristics of this medical condition, spiritual aspects should be emphasized. We committed to using Jesus’ method4 to reach people in need. AAIM began a systematic process of sensitizing church leaders and members about issues of HIV and AIDS, as well as promoting compassionate support groups.
Today AAIM is referred to as “a ministry of hope, love, and compassion,” and has implemented programs in 26 African countries through the work of 70 HIV/AIDS coordinators and associates throughout Africa.
AAIM fights this epidemic using the model of “compassionate support groups,” which first sensitize church members to the issue, then branch out into surrounding communities. Along with helping those affected by HIV and AIDS, these support groups also assist single mothers, those who are challenged physically, seniors, and those facing such challenges as cancer and unemployment.
Church members of all ages are involved in this outreach. Youth support groups in particular have a critical role: to educate young people about the dangers of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and to help them get involved in peer counseling to assist relatives and friends.
Grandmother support groups help AIDS orphans to remain at home by supporting and equipping the grandmothers for that important task.
From the mountains of Lesotho in South Africa to the plains of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, from the islands of the Indian Ocean to the forests of Cameroon, HIV has decimated entire populations, leaving behind pain, suffering, and millions of orphans. And HIV is not an isolated problem; its association with fear, poverty, discrimination, ignorance, prejudices, traditions, myths, despair, shame, and cultural practices has led to its being called “the multiple epidemic.”
Since its inception, AAIM has provided loving and compassionate care and support to thousands of people. The barrier of silence has been broken in many of our churches in Africa, and HIV/AIDS is no longer a taboo subject.
AAIM continues to bring hope and to save lives. HIV prevention is one of its most powerful tools, and it brings Jesus into the lives of many.
To learn more about AAIM, visit www.aidsministry.com.