SOURCE: Compassion International

Compassion International

July 09, 2010 18:02 ET

Progress in AIDS Fight May Be History as Funding Gets "Redirected," Says Compassion International

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO--(Marketwire - July 9, 2010) -  For millions of Africans, the value of a life may soon be worthless. At least, that is what a new trend in the AIDS fight in Africa suggests.

Of Africa's 840 million people, 33 million are affected with the life-threatening disease. Although billions of dollars in both public and private funds have been sent to the nations of Africa to combat AIDS, that money will be shut off as organizations no longer see the AIDS fight as a valid use of their resources.

Due in part to this trend, a May 10 article in the New York Times sadly declared that the AIDS War is falling apart. While the reasons for this assertion are somewhat complicated, the article points out that a main reason is the global recession's effect on donors and "a growing sense that more lives would be saved by fighting other, cheaper diseases."

In Uganda, a country of more than 32 million people, 940,000 people live with HIV/AIDS and another 77,000 die from it each year, according to 2007 estimates. Because of these staggering numbers, this one small nation in the heart of eastern Africa ranks ninth in the world for HIV/AIDS-related deaths. Yet, for $11,500, a Ugandan with the disease can be successfully treated for his or her entire life. 

Isn't a human being worth at least $11,500? Compassion International sees their value as priceless.

Compassion, through a network of local churches, has been successful in getting much-needed treatments to HIV-infected children and their HIV-positive family members. In Uganda, where Compassion serves over 70,000 children, 68.4% of those children who have tested positive for HIV/AIDS have received ARV (Antiretroviral Therapy), and next door in Kenya where Compassion serves over 72,300 children, 50.7% of HIV-infected children have received ARV. In all the African nations in which Compassion serves, 50.4% of those children in Compassion-assisted programs that tested positive for HIV/AIDS have received ARV, and more than half of all the caregivers and siblings of Compassion-assisted children across the continent have as well.

Prevention through education -- including formal seminars, awareness campaigns, and peer-to-peer youth initiatives -- have also helped in the fight against AIDS. Rehabilitative care such as counseling, supplemental food and domestic assistance for children who have lost a parent to AIDS have been successful as well. Across Africa, Compassion has performed voluntary counseling and testing for 256,345 children in the program as well as 21,077 caregivers and siblings.

In addition to what Compassion is doing in Africa, the world has made great gains in the fight against AIDS. Under the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief Fund (PEPFAR), Uganda has seen significant progress. In 2009, more than 175,000 individuals received ARV, 849,600 pregnant women received HIV counseling and testing services for prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission, and 4,413,700 individuals were reached with community outreach HIV/AIDS prevention activities. If funding gets cut, progress like this will be a thing of the past.

It is true that the global recession is wreaking havoc on funding of many important causes and programs around the world. The Times article reports that "Uganda is the first country where major clinics routinely turn people away, but it will not be the last. In Kenya next door, grants to keep 200,000 on drugs will expire soon." In addition to programs being defunded, there is, of course, the age old issue of corruption. This prevents even the money that is available from getting to where it is needed the most.

"There is hope in Africa," said Mark Hanlon, senior vice president of Compassion International, USA. "I see it every day in the once-desperate faces of fathers, mothers and children who have participated in our programs and who now look forward to futures full of life and promise." 

Many witnessing the despair in Africa, like New York Times writer Nick Kristoff, are echoing the great benefits offered by church-based programs, which reach the poorest of the poor in the most remote locations of the world. By partnering with the less vulnerable and more transparent local church, Compassion is part of the progress being made in this critical fight. The funding, though, can't stop while we are making great gains in the AIDS fight. To pull out now would be devastating for millions of children and their parents. Even if public funding runs dry, organizations like Compassion International, will continue equipping families with those basic things -- including education and good nutrition -- to battle this deadly disease.

"While it is true we must fight other diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and yellow fever, we must not turn our backs on the growing numbers suffering from AIDS," said Hanlon. "By abandoning the fight against AIDS, we lose our focus on what is truly important, and that is the preciousness of each and every individual -- from babies to young children to adults. Each of us needs to consider whether our own life is not worth $11,500. If it is, isn't every life?"

Through child sponsorships, Compassion International serves more than 381,500 children in Africa working to permanently break their cycle of poverty. Compassion International is the world's largest Christian child development organization that permanently releases children from poverty. Founded in 1952, Compassion successfully tackles global poverty one child at a time, serving more than 1 million children -- pre-natal through higher education -- in 26 of the world's poorest countries. Recognizing that poverty is more than a lack of money, Compassion works through local churches to holistically address the individual physical, economic, educational and spiritual needs of children, enabling them to thrive, not just survive. Compassion has been awarded eight consecutive four-star ratings by Charity Navigator, America's largest charity evaluator.

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