WHEN TRAGEDY BECOMES A STATISTIC:
CHILDREN, HIV/AIDS AND OTHER DISEASES
An article in the Spring 2006 issue of "Stanford Medicine" is entitled: "The Unhealthiest Place on the Planet for Children - Sub-Saharan Africa." It tells a sad story. We must take care that the enormity of the numbers does not desensitize us to the tragedies of the individual lives.
In sub-Saharan Africa, nine children under the age of five die every minute - 4.8 million a year. Cause of death: malaria, diarrheal disease, respiratory infections, AIDS. (AIDS is the biggie.) Contributing causes: Poverty, malnutrition, bad water, bad sanitation, ineffective delivery systems.
[Parishioners will recall that Fr. Kiriti from Kenya spent time here recently.] In his country 30,000-40,000 infants are born HIV-positive every year. Sixty to seventy percent die before age five. Anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs given to mothers before and after labor and to the newborn just after birth would reduce deaths to almost zero. This is the experience of developed nations.1 President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the UN's Global Fund to Fight AIDS and private donations help pay for ARV drugs. (In Kenya only 2% of the people have access to these drugs.) In sub-Saharan Africa, 26 million are HIV-positive. Of these, 4.8 million need drugs to survive.
In 2003 the UN tried to jump-start delivery of AIDS drugs with the World Health Organization's "3 x 5" program: Treat 3 million by 2005. As a result, global spending increased from $4.7 billion (2003) to $8.3 billion (2005). The program also set a goal for industrialized nations to provide universal access to drugs by 2010. A hopeful note is that the cost of ARV drugs has dropped 53%. A discouraging note is that their present cost is out of the reach of many, many wage earners.2 While prospects for attaining the goals are slim, the UN feels the effort is worthwhile.
WHAT TO DO?
The UN Millennium Project aims to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015. The amounts pledged should get the job done. The amounts delivered are falling short. All participating nations must be encouraged to match word with deed and put their money where their mouths are. (Our parishioners will recall signing letters to lawmakers to do just that - most recently in March 2006.)
AIDS ORPHANS - A BY-PRODUCT
In sub-Saharan Africa, about 15 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS (650,000 in Kenya). This is a traumatic blow to children. An added danger is that because orphanages and existing social programs are overwhelmed, the children must scavenge to survive. They become ripe for sexual predators and for recruitment by terrorist groups.
"The demands of the common good . . . [include] the provision of essential services to all, some of which are . . . basic health care. . . . Nor must one forget the contribution that every nation is required in duty to make towards a truly worldwide cooperation for the common good of the whole of humanity and for future generations also."3
1 Principal sources for this article are the Stanford article cited and various newspaper reports.
2 In sub-Saharan Africa, 7 million live on less that $1 per day.
3 "Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church", #166 [citing Mater et Magistra].