Over 10 million orphans. It took a while for the headline in a recent Newsweek magazine to sink in. Over 10 million African children have lost one or both parents due to the AIDS plague. "A full-blown crisis is upon us, and it's worse than expected" said Newsweek. "By the end of this year an astonishing 10.4 million African children under 15 will have lost their mothers or both parents to AIDS-90 percent of the global total of AIDS orphans" (January 17, 2000, p. 12).
In any other part of the world, the news would be scandalous, but in Africa, a continent largely disconnected from the rest of the world, AIDS is still mostly a silent epidemic. At least it has been finally recognized for what it is-a worldwide plague. In the recent edition dedicated to AIDS in Africa, Newsweek titled the leading article, "The Plague Years."
The facts are slowly sinking in about how terrible and widespread this plague has become. It has already killed close to half a million Americans, almost 10 times the number who died in the Vietnam War. No nation is immune. China and India together have more than seven million cases.
According to the United Nations, with each passing minute, 11 persons become infected with the AIDS virus, or 16,000 a day. This totals an appalling 5.6 million people stricken with the plague last year. The number of people who have AIDS worldwide is around 38 million.
How many have died from AIDS? A million? Five million? Or 10 million? No-it is far worse. The official figure is 16.3 million. Just last year, 2.6 million died of the virus, which is equivalent to the population of Jamaica. Perhaps because two million of those died in Africa (total AIDS deaths in Africa so far-13.7 million), the wails of grief are seldom heard beyond the villages of the dead. Yet, they are all people made in God's image, but whose dreams and aspirations have been shattered.
The figures have grown to such astronomical proportions that they are finally causing alarm in the world community-but it appears largely due to self-interest. "The spread of this disease," said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Richard Holbrooke, "could not be contained in Africa, and the destruction of Africa from AIDS will not be limited to the continent. If we don't work with the Africans themselves to address these problems...we will have to deal with them later when they will get more dangerous and more expensive" (p. 12, emphasis added throughout). Apparently, the United States is now acting out of expediency, convinced that containing the virus would be more dangerous and costly later.
Factors that cause AIDS to spread
Why has the AIDS virus been particularly virulent in Africa? The Newsweek article continues, "The disease began in Africa and spread, in part, because of social instability-via migrant workers, refugees and women who had few other means to support themselves than prostitution. Cultural factors also played a role: superstitions spread in some areas that the best cure for an HIV-infected man was to sleep with a virgin" (p. 12). In Africa it appears that AIDS is a primarily heterosexual challenge.
The caution with which some of the Western news media deals with the AIDS epidemic is due mostly to the political issues involved. Prostitution, promiscuity and homosexuality are all contributing elements, intimately connected with the AIDS virus, but are considered "politically incorrect" subjects by many journalists. In a world where sexual morals are being increasingly relaxed, it is difficult for the news media to deal with the main culprit of the AIDS outbreak-the breaking of the Seventh Commandment-"You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14).
One insightful Newsweek reader later commented about the special edition dedicated to AIDS: "In 14 pages of text, the words 'casual sex' or 'promiscuity' were not mentioned once, even though this is the direct or indirect cause of 98 percent of all new infections in Africa. Nor was the fact that HIV is a sexually transmitted infection alluded to" (Newsweek, February 14, 2000, p. 5).
To be sure, there are many innocent victims of AIDS in Africa. Tainted blood used in transfusions is one cause. Mates unknowingly contract AIDS from a spouse who is a carrier. And then there are the children who inherit it from birth.
A warning from God
God has repeatedly warned mankind in the past that He will not tolerate rampant sexual immorality forever. We read in 2 Peter that He turned "the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly..." (2:6).
God's intervention in world affairs is also linked in Daniel 8 to a rise of ungodly living, of which the AIDS plague is both a symptom and a part. There it is prophesied, "And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors have reached their fullness, a king shall arise...against the Prince of princes [at Christ's second coming]; but he shall be broken without human means" (verses 23-25). It seems that sin has to rise to a certain peak level before God decides to launch the planned intervention of His Kingdom.
A past plague
So far, the death toll from AIDS has not equaled that of plagues in the past. The 1918 influenza virus was estimated to have killed over 20 million people. It spread quickly, and then died out. But a real plague is known for its lasting deadliness. So far, the AIDS epidemic has lasted some 20 years.
There are no known cures for AIDS. Very expensive and powerful drugs are able to hold it in check somewhat, but not eliminate it. Enormous efforts and resources have been directed at finding a cure, and some scientists believe they are on the right track to a lasting solution. This would be good news, for no one wants AIDS to continue, and there are too many innocent victims.
Fear of contracting the virus has slowed the rampant immorality in some countries. One wonders if a cure for AIDS would "free" people from their fears and actually lead to increased promiscuity. Other sexually transmissible diseases continue to multiply-in spite of their devastating consequences.
Long-term solution to AIDS
The long-term solution to the AIDS problem includes more than eliminating the virus. People must choose to stop their sexual misconduct that spreads it around. God promises that people will choose this solution under His government, which Christ will establish at His return to this earth. Jesus described the dire world conditions prior to His arrival: "And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many [for God's ways] will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:12-13). He also foretold that "pestilences…in various places" would be extant before His coming (Matthew 24:7).
Christ promised us He would return to save this sin-stricken world from itself. He will usher in a kingdom where these diseases will no longer exist, because the world's citizens will choose a better way of life. We read about this in Isaiah 11:9, "For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea." With true knowledge, people will not choose damaging lifestyles.
A change of heart
For that to occur, though, man's heart must be changed. God's laws must be written in a person's heart. God has prophesied this will occur: "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Hebrews 8:10).
Imagine a world where marriage is respected to the point where no one will be looking for another sexual partner-where youths are not promiscuous and commit to wait until marriage to have wholesome sexual relations. AIDS and other venereal diseases will then be a distant memory. That is part of God's promises, which He will bring about when Christ establishes His blessed kingdom.
The United Church of God is committed to proclaiming the gospel of God's Kingdom and the marvelous truths that will eventually lead to the elimination of the world's present plagues. Then, and only then, shall the words, AIDS and venereal disease be part of man's past history. WNP