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To: 8th
Pan-African Assembly of IMCS – Pax Romana and the launching of the African Jesuit AIDS Network, Lomé, Togo

From: Muhigirwa Ferdinand, S.J., Co-ordinator of the Jesuit Social Apostolate in
Africa and Madagascar

Date: 10 December 2002

THE PANDEMIC OF HIV/AIDS: THE PRIORITY OF PRIORITIES

1st December:
World AIDS Day decreed by the UN to arouse and draw the world’s attention to what could be called “the disease of the century.” Statistics reveal that Africa is the continent where the prevalence of
HIV/AIDS infection and the number of persons infected are the highest. One speaks of 2.4 million dead in Africa out of a world-wide population of 42 million persons infected, of which 30 million are in
Africa.

The Political Declaration of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (26 August – 4 September, 2002) reaffirmed one of the principles of the Rio Conference
that states that every human being has the right to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature. Because of poverty, underemployment, degraded housing conditions and deteriorating access to
health care, millions of persons suffer from contagious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria (n. 41). Chapter VIII of the Action Plan of the same Summit mentions that efforts agreed upon by
Africans towards stable development have been derailed by the persistence of conflicts, the low level of investments, the insufficiency of revenues from commerce, the increasing burden of debt and the
impact of HIV/AIDS (n. 56). Among the ten priorities agreed upon by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), health and the struggle against HIV/AIDS holds the fifth position.

In our opinion, none of the strategies for integral human development (which include the economic, social, political, cultural, and religious dimensions) will have a lasting impact because of the
devastating consequences of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. For us, the HIV/AIDS pandemic is not an epi-phenomenon, one priority among others, one of the major challenges, but it is, in the light of the signs of
the times, the priority of priorities of our apostolic mission in the Assistancy of Africa and Madagascar. It is for this reason that the Father General of the Society of Jesus “encourages each Province
to seek ways of increasing its involvement in this apostolate.” In so doing, we incarnate our preferential love for the poor “through which we exercise our commitment against every form of injustice and
misery.”

On 21 June 2002, when establishing the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN), Fr. Shirima Valerian, Moderator of the JESAM, asked all African Jesuits to recognise this network as
“an Assistancy work and important priority. Those suffering with HIV/AIDS, the last General Congregation reminds us, require of us the attention which our biblical tradition demands for ‘the orphans,
widows and strangers in your midst,’ that is, a response which reflects God’s preferential love for them.” The principle mission of AJAN is to help Jesuits give an appropriate Gospel response to the
challenge of HIV/AIDS, taking into consideration the local faith, culture and spirituality, and establishing networks of collaboration and exchange with groups and associations which are fighting
against the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Today, several apostolic activities are oriented towards the fight against HIV/AIDS: education of young people about prevention, media education, peer
education, home care for the sick, pastoral work with orphans and families in mourning, the apostleship of prayer, introduction to human rights issues, medical and social services, research,
publication, and popular education. We try to establish links with action networks within the apostolic sector, such as education, pastoral activities, the formation of Ours and social action in the
Assistancy of Africa and Madagascar. These apostolic activities need to be sustained with financial support in view of creating and reinforcing health systems to make the necessary medications and
technology for combating HIV/AIDS available to the poor.

If it is true that AIDS has taken millions of victims, it is also true that one becomes a victim of AIDS. Our choices, our
responsibility and our decisions are morally involved in how we acquire the acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Beyond matters of prevention and medicine, there also needs to be education in the moral,
Christian, and religious values of fidelity, love, abstinence, sincerity, and chastity. This education must absolutely be promoted. Because what is at stake, most definitely, is not the HIV/AIDS virus
itself but the person affected by the virus. Let us mobilise ourselves, putting together all our scientific knowledge, all our physical, cultural, and intellectual, moral and spiritual energies, to
fight against HIV/AIDS, to promote the development of each person and the whole person. This person for whom Christ had the passion to endure his Passion because he had come so that people might have
life and have it in abundance.

AIDS IN UGANDA
AJANews

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