AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) looms larger every week. We are afraid for ourselves and for our families. We worry when we see no vaccine or cure in sight for years to come. Above all, wanting to be strong we feel helpless in the face of something that is becoming the plague of our lifetime.
How will Seventh-day Adventists respond to this global crisis? How will our church administration, educational system, medical system, and local churches respond? How will individuals respond? By their response to the AIDS epidemic. Seventh-day Adventists demonstrate their mission and purpose. We must question: “Does our mission and purpose closely reveal the face and heart of God as reflected in the life and actions of Jesus Christ?” Desiring to reveal the redemptive love of Christ we need to separate the disease from the issue of morality, demonstrating a compassionate, positive attitude toward persons with AIDS, offering acceptance and love, and providing for their physical and spiritual needs. We should feel ashamed when we see social rejection of people who have AIDS.
We must be adequately informed as to the dangers of AIDS and how it is spread. We must use that information to protect ourselves as well as share with others the information on prevention.
What is AIDS?
AIDS is a contagious disease caused by a virus called the human immuno-deficiency virus (HIV). The virus enters the blood and disables a vital part of the body’s immune system. This leaves the body unable to defend itself against a wide variety of infections and certain kinds of cancers.
Medical science is working intensely to combat AIDS. Some medications delay the onset of AIDS and others prove effective against some of the infections which persons with AIDS acquire, but to date there is no vaccine or cure for AIDS and none is likely in the near future.
What are the Symptoms of AIDS?
Shortly after acquiring the virus, humans can transmit the disease although they feel fine and have no symptoms. The commonly used blood test for the virus remains negative for two to six months after initial contact and in rare cases, more than 12 months. After the blood test for the virus becomes positive, people usually continue to remain symptom free for several years. During this incubation period they can continue to spread the virus to others. AIDS usually develops within five to fifteen years of first acquiring the infection. As of 1990 it seems that almost everyone infected with HIV will eventually develop symptoms and die of this disease
An intermediate stage of the infection called AIDS-Related Complex (ARC) shows itself in a variety of symptoms, including: loss of appetite, drastic weight loss, fever, skin rashes, swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea, night sweats, fatigue and weakness. Affected persons may die from ARC without developing the specific infections associated with AIDS. People with AIDS commonly suffer repeated bouts of illness, many due to infections. These may be marked by pneumonia; severe infections of the mouth, throat or bowels; diarrhea; weight loss; prolonged fever; and unusual cancers. The virus can also attack the nervous system and damage the brain, causing loss of memory and coordination, profound weakness and personality changes.
Global Impact of AIDS
AIDS has been reported in nearly every country of the world. During the 1980’s AIDS became an international pandemic, the number of persons with symptoms doubling every 18 to 24 months. Some people are calling AIDS the “plague” of the twentieth century. It is estimated that as many as seven million people are carrying the virus in 1990. At the present, however, well known diseases such as malaria, schistosomiasis and measles afflict and kill far more people worldwide than AIDS does. Yet AIDS remains a major threat to public health in most parts of the world.
The World Health Organization believes that by the beginning of the twenty-first century more than 100 million people around the world will be infected by the virus. One specialist in epidemics, Dr. B. Frank Polk of Johns Hopkins University in the United States, says that some countries may lose 25 percent of their population to AIDS by the mid-1990’s.
Can AIDS Be Treated?
Drugs, such as zidovudine (AZT) effectively slow the progression of AIDS. Many additional drugs are in various stages of testing and may be released in the near future. While awaiting better HIV drugs, patients are treated for the specific infections or cancers as they develop.
Medical treatment in the United States for a person with AIDS costs an average of $40-60,000 a year. The prevalence of AIDS is straining the capacity of medical facilities in many parts of the world. The expense of treating AIDS threatens to overwhelm the health care system in even the wealthiest countries.
How People Do and Do Not Get Aids
AIDS is spread most often through sexual contact. Infected men or women pass it on to partners of either sex. Because the AIDS virus is carried in the blood, it can be transmitted when IV drug users share needles and syringes, by transfusions of infected blood or blood products and by improperly sterilized hypodermic needles. Instruments used for tattooing, ear piercing, cutting tribal scars or penetrating the skin for any purpose can also carry the organism. Mothers can pass it on to children through pregnancy and/or delivery and, rarely, through nursing.
AIDS is not casually spread. AIDS is not transmitted by shaking hands, touching, hugging or being close to people who have AIDS so long as there is no sexual contact or contact with blood. It is not caught by touching door knobs, using telephones, eating out in restaurants, swimming in public pools, using public toilets or through the ordinance of foot washing or baptism. Although the AIDS virus is found in very low concentrations in tears, nasal secretions and saliva, it is not easily transmitted by sneezing, coughing or casual contact. It is not transmitted by mosquito or insect bites or by contact with animals. It cannot be contracted by donating blood.
AIDS and the Worldwide Work of Seventh-day Adventists
The Seventh-day Adventist Church, because of its far reaching ministry in nearly 200 countries, will encounter the challenges posed by AIDS. Seventh-day Adventist leaders in all institutions and in the local congregations must actively educate for the prevention of HIV infection.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is committed to meeting the challenge of AIDS comprehensively and compassionately. The General Conference formed an AIDS Committee in 1987. It is composed of experts in medicine, public health, nursing, church administration, minority interests, ethics, theology and education. Its recommendations must be acted on by the church’s executive committees and boards if the church is to have a balanced, comprehensive and timely approach to AIDS.
AIDS and Pastoral Ministry
AIDS challenges the ministry of Seventh-day Adventist pastors and chaplains. They already have people with HIV infection in their congregations, communities and hospitals. The numbers will increase. They should not fear casual physical contact including shaking hands and baptizing. Pastors should continue to call on the sick at their homes or in the hospital. HIV infections should not change patterns of visitation or in any way limit ministry.
The AIDS crisis provides pastors and chaplains the opportunity to speak publicly about AIDS, sexuality, the sanctity and beauty of marriage, interpersonal relationships, and about health practices which provide a barrier against acquiring AIDS. In advocating and educating regarding behaviors that prevent the transmission of HIV, pastors and chaplains demonstrate the love and compassion of God in their Seventh-day Adventist ministry.
AIDS and Pastoral Care
The fear of AIDS should not compromise our compassion or our witness. Those who test positive for HIV and who may be sick with the disease should find acceptance and fellowship in the local congregation. They should be comfortable in our church services and be welcomed to participate in all activities of the church: baptism, foot washing and the communion supper. The local church can find many ways to minister to those with AIDS. Church members can join or form a support group and become individually involved in a supportive role to meet the needs of persons and families impacted by AIDS.
AIDS and Seventh-day Adventist Schools
The HIV infected child must be welcome in Seventh-day Adventist schools even as God welcomes us into a relationship with Him. AIDS predisposes to others infectious diseases such as tuberculoses. If these are present proper precautions may be necessary confidentiality of students who test positive for HIV must be protected. Parents and teachers should be educated as to the nature of AIDS and the steps required to prevent its spread. Guidelines for educational institutions and a recommended curriculum for AIDS education is available through the General Conference Education Department.
AIDS and Seventh-day Adventist Health Care Institutions
Seventh-day Adventist hospitals and clinics should provide an environment in which AIDS patients receive compassionate, quality care. At the same time procedures and policies need to be implemented for the safety of employees to minimize any careless exposure to the AIDS virus. All needles, syringes and surgical equipment must be adequately sterilized. Blood and blood products should be tested and made as safe as possible. Guidelines for preventing AIDS in medical institutions are available through the General Conference Health and Temperance Department.
AIDS and International Workers
Workers assigned to fields outside of their homeland are receiving special training for the medical problems in the countries where they will be serving. These workers are receiving AIDS education. The church is advocating that travelers avoid injections where oral substitutes are available. They are advised to carry sterile disposable needles and syringes for their own personal use when injections are necessary, and they are advised to avoid transfusions of untested blood or blood products.
A Final Word About AIDS
Seventh-day Adventist church members and employees have a Christian obligation to respond to and treat people suffering with AIDS as Jesus our Savior treated the sick and outcast. Tragically, the world responds to AIDS sufferers as it once did to lepers–as sinful carriers of death to be shunned and isolated. But God in Jesus gave us His response. He went out of His way, often walking for several days, just to touch and heal a person afflicted with leprosy. He always offered love, acceptance and forgiveness to those afflicted by religious pride and other sins of the day. Through His redemptive love He offered life and freedom from the burden of sin. The Seventh-day Adventist Church seeks to engage in the ministry of Christ. It must respond with love and acceptance when dealing with all people, including those with AIDS.
How to Prevent Aids
- Limit sexual activity to a monogamous marriage relationship with a person known not to be infected with HIV. When one person is infected and sexual activities are continued, condoms are recommended.
- Use only sterilized needles or syringes for injections.
- Test blood prior to transfusions.
- Sterilize sharp instruments used for scarification, tattoos and circumcision.
- Consult your doctor in the early stages of pregnancy.
- Educate other people about how to prevent AIDS.
- Choose to avoid high-risk behaviors such as sexual promiscuity and use of unsterile needles.
This study document was published by the AIDS Committee of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and was released by the Health and Temperance Department at the General Conference Session in Indianapolis, Indiana, 1990.