Statistics begin with one and by some who care enough to collect them. They entail systematic methods of reporting and they are unavailable in many underdeveloped countries. Exact statistics may be unreliable because official cause-of-death reports in developing countries are often unreliable or nonexistent. “Verbal autopsies” conducted with friends and family of the deceased is one method used to compile the death-toll estimate. Yet we know enough about the reality of illness and death that even when statistics are in dispute, we realize that the statistics of HIV/AIDS represent hundreds, thousands, and millions who have suffered and died. This is the story of HIV/AIDS.
Since the first cases of AIDS came to public attention in 1981, the virus has claimed over 25 million lives worldwide and today and estimated 35 million now are living with HIV. An estimated 8 million people in lower-income countries are receiving antiretroviral drugs, and the United Nations has set a target to raise that to 15 million by 2015. Funding for HIV prevention and treatment totaled $16.8 billion last year. That probably is responsible for why in 2012, it was reported the number of worldwide AIDS-related deaths fell to 1.7 million last year from some 1.8 million in 2010. Fortunately, there has been some progress to educate how HIV/AIDS can be prevented, and, in a few where religion makes the rules, religious leader have agreed that condoms do what “just say no” and faith cannot.
“In Muslim communities, religious leaders are using Islamic principles to educate adherents about the disease. In Senegal, which has one of the lowest HIV rates in the region, Muslim leaders promote values such as abstinence and fidelity with a view to HIV prevention and “endorse condoms within a marriage if they [are] used for health reasons.” Recognizing the potential benefits of involving religion in the fight against AIDS, USAID in Indonesia has partnered with religious leaders to “facilitate the implementation of HIV policy statements within the faith” and “share a compilation of fatwa (religious guidance) on HIV prevention.” Some Islamic scholars in Zanzibar characterize family planning as a practice with Koranic endorsement, and their acceptance of condoms for family planning purposes has positive implications for HIV transmission. Nevertheless, while HIV/AIDS prevention programs based in Islamic principles have potential, they also have notable limitations. Invariably, these programs do not address condom use outside of the marital context or HIV transmission among men who have sex with men, as homosexuality is often culturally taboo.” (See Religion’s Role in Fighting AIDS by Isobel Coleman, Dec 2 2011. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/12/religions-role-…)
Religion has not and is not doing all it can to prevent suffering and death from HIV/AIDS. Its core message to minister to those who are suffering is not fully realized. Unfortunately, unless organized religion becomes more involved, this plague will not be stopped.