The last three decades bear testament to the devastating effects of HIV and AIDS on all spheres of society. No society has gone untouched by the epidemic. While poorer countries have the highest infection and casualty rates, richer countries continue to devote significant resources towards research and financing of the fight against the virus.
San Francisco represents the developed world while sub-Saharan Africa represents one of the worst hit regions by HIV. The goal of this paper is to compare the impacts of the epidemic on these two regions by looking at the driving factors and the intervention efforts by the church.
San Francisco holds an important place in California. It was once the largest settlement in the east coast of the United States. It played a significant role in the Second World War by acting as an exit point for troops headed towards the pacific.
This city became the heart of civil liberties movements in the United States after the war. The movements set out to expand the traditional definitions of marriage and to mainstream same-sex unions. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the largest community living with HIV in the city is gay (San Francisco AIDS Foundation).
Another factor driving up infection rates in the city is drug use characterized by sharing of syringes. As the drug problem spread out in America, San Francisco took its share of the burden, resulting in a large community of addicts. Access to syringes has improved over time but it remains a controversial intervention in the control of the spread of HIV.
The HIV case in Sub Saharan Africa lies in the larger issues of poverty, tradition, and ignorance (Umunna 25). This part of the world provides case studies on absolute poverty (WHO and UNAIDS 20). As a region, Sub Saharan Africa is home to majority of the worlds poor and has some of the most deplorable health care systems. Because of poverty, the infection rates have soared since most people do not have access to credible information because there is no infrastructure to relay the information (WHO and UNAIDS 20).
Traditions amongst the people living in sub Sahara Africa also contributes significantly to the spread of HIV. Some of them promote practices such as wife inheritance, communal circumcision using the same set of knives and polygamy. All these are risk factors in enhancing the spread of the virus. Ignorance makes it impossible for the people to know how to conduct themselves to avoid infection such as mother to child transmission.
A keen look at the factors driving the spread of HIV in both areas reveals that the same basic elements are responsible for the spread of infection. Sharing of needles and knives both use the same transmission mechanism of sharing infected instruments. The major mode of HIV transmission, which is sex with an infected partner, plays a big role in both places where people have multiple sex partners.
In San Francisco, they are mainly same sex couples while in sub Saharan Africa, traditions allow for polygamy and wife inheritance, which both amount to sharing multiple sex partners. In the event that one person in the pool contracts the virus, then all the people involved end up infected.
The main difference between the nature of infection in San Francisco and in Sub Saharan Africa comes from the economic divide that characterizes the two locations. San Francisco is relatively wealthier and better connected than Sub Saharan Africa. It is easier to use community-based programs in San Francisco to control infection rates in San Francisco because of the infrastructural outlay already available.
However, in sub Saharan Africa, limited communication infrastructure delays transmission of information and materials for use to prevent the spread on HIV. In conclusion, the social and economic disposition of a region influences how HIV spreads and influences the results of the efforts to control it (Umunna 27).
The church is one of the important players in the fight against HIV. The church has certain unique characteristics that place it strategically as a key institution in the fight against HIV. The church is an outward looking entity with a mission that seeks to engage with its immediate community.
Normally, church outreach efforts target the less privileged and the vulnerable in society. These segments of the society suffer most from the impact of HIV in both San Francisco and in Sub Saharan Africa. Churches have programs to help widows, orphans, the sick, and drug addicts by offering practical help and hope.
One such church is the Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco which felt firsthand the devastating impact of the virus in the mid eighties when there was no effective means to manage the epidemic (MCCSF). This church developed mechanisms to support members affected by the disease. It meant taking care of widows, providing emotional and spiritual support for orphans and sensitizing the community on the impacts of the virus.
In sub Saharan Africa, a large segment of the population is religious. This means that there is a favorable disposal by the communities to the messages given by clerics. Primarily, churches concern themselves with the moral issues sorrounding sex and as such, they are able to dissuade sexual relations outside marriage and sex with multiple partners because of the spiritual ramifications.
In addition, the churches, just like in San Francisco, are part of the community efforts in taking care of AIDS orphans, widows, and patients. Some of them run hospitals where medical care is available for HIV patients. The key message that the church has towards the world is compassion and this is the key requirements for dealing with the aftermath of the epidemic.
However, the church does not promote the full range of measures available for prevention of the spread of HIV since some of them go against the principles that the church stands for. The most significant issue in this regard is the condom debate.
On one hand, research reports indicate that there is a significant reduction in the chances of infection by using a condom when having sex. However, churches cannot embrace this approach because of the moral issues surrounding sex between unmarried parties. The Catholic Church actually rejects the condom in total because it goes against the natural philosophy that it believes ought to govern sexual relations.
The fitting conclusion is that the church has assets and presence in both sub Saharan Africa and in San Francisco which are vital in the fight against AIDS. However, it is impractical to expect the church to abandon its traditional values to embrace the full range of options available in the fight. Therefore, the best thing is to allow the church to play the roles that suits it best in the fight against HIV without interfering with its core message.
MCCSF. History of Metropolitan Community Church San Francisco. 10 March 2011. 4 October 2011
San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Statistics. 2011. 4 October 2011
Umunna, Gregory Ejiogu. HIV/AIDS: Political Will and Hope. USA: Xlibris Corporation, 2011.
WHO and UNAIDS. AIDS Epidemic Update: December 2009. Geneva: WHO Regional Office Europe, 2009.