Notes and Comment: An Aids Memoire

An Aids Memoire Since the first case was reported twenty-one years ago 25 million people have died as a result of Aids, and current UN estimates forecast that in the next 20 years nearly 70 million more will die. The stunning speed at which it has spread is an indisputable reflection of 21st century morality, or rather the lack of it. Dr. Peter Piot, the UNAIDS executive director gave a stark warning at the Barcelona Conference this year saying, ‘We haven’t reached the peak of the Aids epidemic yet…it’s an unprecedented epidemic in human history…From a pure medical problem, Aids has become an issue for economic and social development and even for security.’1 Who would have believed that a single human impulse could cause such catastrophe? The very instinct that was bestowed upon man for his survival is being used for his own destruction. It is a global phenom- enon and no country is safe from it – in Iran a striking poster boldly warned its new arrivals at its airport of the ‘plague of the century’. Africa is in crisis and with governments reluctant to act – either for economic or political reasons – multinationals are starting to step in. Theirs may be an act of charity in setting up clinics, hospitals and launching massive programmes to slow down the spread, but such programmes are also rooted in business sense. If your workforce is dying off then it won’t be long before you have no workforce at all. Startling also is the response of governments – South Africa, until relatively recently, rejected the existence of its Aids crisis and ‘solved’ the problem by simply ignoring it. It is now bracing itself for the colossal impact this silent killer will have on its nation. After all when one in nine of your citizens are HIV positive and up to 17% of your citizens are doomed to die young who will be tomorrow’s teachers, scientists, ministers and leaders? Who will be left to generate wealth and protect your country? The developing world, already ravaged by war, famine and globalisation is having to deal with another real and ruthless killer amongst its ranks that cannot be caught, captured or killed – it is Armageddon at its most cunning. Countries like Botswana where 40% of the adult population are infected with HIV are being crippled and there is little hope for its people. 4 Review of Religions – October 2002 Notes and Comment Even the medical ‘treatments’ offered – that at the most only delay the inevitable – are priced out of the poor man’s reach. But this is not just a poor man’s war. The first world – for all its advancements and prosperity – is suffering with the extent of the damage unfolding as time goes on. People from all walks of life are being hunted down by their past and are being forced to face the plague born out of their immorality and indulgence. Ye t despite this it is disconcerting to note that the incoming leader of the Church of England, Dr Ro w a n Williams, who takes over as the Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of October, has failed to endorse the traditional Christian teaching condemning extramarital rela- tionships and homosexuality!2 (This is particularly odd if one considers the Biblical account of Sodom and Gomorrah). With the moral reins being loosened it is little wonder that society continues to drift. The amoral freedom advocated on the silver screens the world over is costing dear – billions upon billions of dollars that could help the destitute in east and west are being poured into research and medication to offer some hope of salvation. Recent UN calculations state that up to $10 billion per year are needed just to provide some medical treatment to Aids sufferers in the poor nations alone. Perhaps a cure will be found and perhaps this will become a blemish on man’s history but all these lives, all this time, effort and money will be lost and will have been worth nothing if nothing is learned from this sordid chapter. That all this was predicted 1400 years ago is astounding and deeper reflection moves one to accept it as a powerful sign of an All-knowing Being. A Being Whose mercy encompasses all, Who creates, nurtures and guides. A Being Who guards, cares and cherishes His creatures. A Being that has clearly distinguished right from wrong and out of mercy made clear the consequences of both. Yes, man is free to do as he wills, but attached to this freedom is the gravest responsibility – for his actions impact upon not only himself but also others around him. And if he fails to keep himself in check within the confines of morality then his day of judgement may arrive sooner than he thinks. Fareed Ahmad 1. UNAIDS Barcelona Report 2002, press conference 2. Evening Standard, 2 Oct. 2002 5 Notes and Comment Review of Religions – October 2002

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