The Shame of AIDS

by Chris Lautsbaugh on October 18, 2013

One of the leading issues in many of the nations we live and work in is HIV/AIDS.

The statistics from South Africa on this issue are shocking.  Conservative estimates place infection rates at 10% of the nation, or over 5 million cases.

You would assume with these facts, the signs of this disease would be everywhere. Only they are not.

The shame of this disease hides it from the public eye, keeping it as a private issue. It is illegal to ask someone their status. The numbers alone make it a reality that many we work with will have this disease, but often we do not know this as a fact. In my eight years in this nation, I have met two which have declared their status or confided in me. A young South African man who grew up in the impoverished townships says he too only knows of two.

Two people! Many others hide alone in shame.

That number increased to three recently.

I met Musa Njoko.  She was well-known for her gospel music, but now her fame comes from her Aids activism. She has shared the stage with President Bill Clinton promoting awareness.

As she told her story, several things stood out to me.

Her courage As secretive as this disease is today, when she came out it was an isolation sentence. She dealt with this through her faith in God and her sense of humor.

Musa related the story of swimming at a public pool. As her and her family were enjoying the water, she noticed the pool was quickly emptying for fear of “catching” the disease. She joked, “well family we have the whole pool to ourselves! ”

Her recognition of progress – South Africa has come a long way in HIV treatment. Leaders in the past declared the disease a myth or a creation of the West. They advocated going to traditional healers (witch doctors) or taking vitamin B12. The former head of the AIDS commission willingly had unprotected sex with an infected woman, feeling safe because he showered afterwards. This man is the current president of South Africa! There was even a myth circulating which said the remedy was sleeping with a virgin. This only made things worse.

Today anti retroviral drugs are available for free.

Her faith in the future Musa says South Africa has one of the best prevention programs in the world now. As she still lives in one of the most vulnerable communities, She sees change.

My prayer for South Africa is for a greater openness. Unfortunately, the people who hurt Musa the most were in the church. They called her a slut and a whore. I would love to see more people like Musa, declare their status. But, more than the infected coming out, I would like to see less affliction. The church must change their mindset.

From what we see of Jesus, the HIV positive people are exactly those he would spend time with. They may be similar to the lepers in our midst today whom Jesus loved.

Do we?

What about your nation? How is progress being made on this global epidemic? What is the attitude of the church towards those infected in your country of service?

– Chris Lautsbaugh, Missionary teacher and author with Youth With A Mission, living in S. Africa.
Blog: NoSuperHeroes   Twitter: @lautsbaugh   Facebook: NoSuperHeroes

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About Chris Lautsbaugh

In missions for 20+ years currently in South Africa as a teacher and leadership coach. He serves side by side with wife, Lindsey, and two boys, Garett and Thabo. Blogs at NoSuperHeroes.com on grace, leadership, and missions. Wrote Death of the Modern SuperHero:How Grace Breaks our Rules.
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  • petervandever

    The nation is only a failure when first the Church has become a failure. Judgement starts at the House of God if we haven’t forgotten 🙂

  • Richelle Wright

    it is still very much an unspoken thing in our part of the world… but very real, too. we know people who’ve died from aids related complications, but it was never openly admitted. often, it is the subject of gossip or hushed whispering. sometimes the attitude is like, if we don’t admit it, it can’t be a problem. i do think some in the church recognize that sin isn’t the only reason some… women in particular… are (suspected) affected with aids. one of the “untruths” promoted in our region was that women would get aids if they refused to be intimate with their husbands… even when there were multiple wives and mistresses in other places involved. i couldn’t believe that when one of my friends told me that’s what her husband as an imam “preached.” on the other hand, i’ve also been surprised at the sacrificial care people have shown to family where aids was suspected. often people refused to be tested because they just didn’t want to know. there’s also the mentality – aids, tb, malaria, typhoid, meningitis, measles… does it really matter – so many die from so many things…

    poverty adds such another dimension – i.e. where at some clinics they don’t always bother to test donated blood because if they are to the point of a transfusion for someone, that person is already dying – like imminently. even if it is tainted blood, it will give them a few more years of life is the rationale… i struggle to wrap my mind around that mentality.

  • dustinxpatrick

    Shame does irrational things throughout cultures. Thanks for writing this, it’s such an important topic for people working in different cultures to be aware of.

  • Tammy Ogden

    This is a great question. It is not spoken about where we are either.

  • Phil Wilmot

    In Uganda, the President called for a screening of soldiers and police. Those who tested HIV+ were sent to the north. There many of them raped and pillaged, and the HIV+ rate in that area went from about 1% to about 15% very rapidly. It was used as a weapon.

    • Elizabeth

      Can you cite a source for this?
      I know about rape as a weapon of war in N. Uganda but I’m wondering about the part where the president supposedly sent the HIV+ soldiers to the north.
      Thanks.

  • Elizabeth

    Just a clarifying note about the “myth circulating that sex with a virgin would cure AIDS” – this isn’t a short-lived urban myth unique to South Africa. It is a fairly common belief in much of sub-Saharan Africa and has been for years. Also, it appears to have originated in 16th century Europe (in regards to other STIs – sexually transmitted infections). See:
    http://www.journaids.org/index.php/essential_information/myths_and_misconceptions_about_hivaids/having_sex_with_a_virgin_will_cure_hiv/

  • Thanks for all the comments on this post. Perhaps one of the minor keys to unlocking major transformation is to get us talking about it!

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