By Nyambura Njoroge (*)
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) invites us all to read, digest and reflect on the 2010 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic and to join in the vision: “Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths.”
Despite all the well articulated progress, the report highlights that infections are outpacing treatment by 2 to 1 and 10 million people are still waiting for treatment. On the other hand, people living with HIV who have shared their experiences remind us always that living with the virus is a very difficulty journey but confronting stigma, discrimination and rejection is even harder and very painful reality.
Certainly, many people are out promoting universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support campaign but the number is still small given the huge magnitude and intensity of the social injustices that drive the pandemic. Put differently, in the words of Jesus in the Christian gospels “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9: 37 & Luke 10: 2).
Africa continues to carry the burden of the HIV and AIDS pandemic even as some other regions are listed as beginning to share in this burden by increased cases of HIV prevalence. Yet, there are countless stories of a critical mass of children (read siblings), teenagers, women and men, among them millions of HIV positive sisters and brothers scattered all over the continent – from the Arabic North to the Cape of Good Hope, from Timbuktu to the shores of Djibouti – who are agents of change promoting healthy and positive living in the midst of multiple diseases, scarce nutritious meals, far in between health care, services and medication and stigma-free voluntary counseling and testing centres. And so it feels as if in the words of Mary mother of Jesus, “They have no wine.” (John 2:3)
So even as we digest the achievements in the UNAIDS 2010 report as Christian churches and in the global ecumenical movement we are invited to reflect and ponder on the wisdom of Mary to her own son and the servants (John 2: 4-11) as she (during this advent season) joins millions waiting for their turn to receive HIV treatment, compassion, love and restored dignity.
Mary’s faith in Jesus and her actions in this particular wedding incident in Cana in Galilee invite the followers of Jesus (the body of Christ) to speak out, act and to provide insightful, courageous, compassionate and effective leadership in finding solutions to the many social injustices and violations of human dignity that have been so eloquently revealed by the epidemic.
“They have no wine”, nor food security, nor security from bodily violations (sexual and gender-based violence), nor equal access to education, health care, economic opportunity, nor political power, nor cultural respect, nor dignity because they are orphans, children, poor, women, widows, widowers and HIV positive.
Mary, mother of Jesus, stood among the people who had no wine, and her actions revealed God’s glory made manifest as women and men drunk the good wine and celebrated the wedding feast. The call to journey with people living with HIV and those most affected by the pandemic is a challenging plea for Christian churches and the global ecumenical movement to rethink our understanding of God’s hospitality and the divine reign of justice and peace on this earth.
(*) The Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge is the programme executive for the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA) of the World Council of Churches.