I wrote this blog many weeks ago, but I never posted it. Unfortunately, I was right.
I don’t write these kinds of blogs very often, but I really need to give you a sobering look at HIV/AIDS in Africa. This is probably going to hurt a bit, but I think if you can hang in there long enough, you might be able to save a life as well.
Last Sunday, I was picking up the ACTION missionaries Paul and Patrick from a church in a compound near my house. When I arrived, I asked the pastor how his niece was doing. His mother was carrying this little girl and when I approached her to pray for the baby, I was shocked by the size of her face. On Friday night, the baby began crying, and as they later discovered, had sores all over the inside of her mouth and then her face began to swell. When I sore on Sunday, she hadn’t eaten anything in a day and a half. She has been to two clinics. I stood there, by my car, in this dirty, crowded compound, with this desperate mother and whimpering child, gawked at by all the Zambians, wondering why I should do. I spoke first to the pastor, saying, “Why don’t you call me in the morning and if she is still bad, I can take her to a private hospital.” But, I thought, she might not be alive in the morning. I have witnessed too many babies dying of such preventable causes that I just couldn’t leave her but, honestly, I also didn’t want to give up my Sunday afternoon nap. (Just being honest.) After praying for this sister-in-law of the pastor, she walked towards the house of the pastor. I was very conflicted. What do I do? I got in the car, and began driving out of the compound, but said, “I can’t not take her to the hospital.” And so I got the o.k. from my guests and pulled over by the house. I saw my pastor friend and told him what I was thinking. The mother with the child and the wife of the pastor came along with the pastor and we all headed out the hospital, over bumps, through gullies, alongside little raggedy shops, kids yelling out and waving, with this dying little 2 year old dying in my car.
We made it to the hospital and I left them waiting for a consultation. An hour later the baby was admitted to the hospital for what would become a four night stay. The baby had HIV. They found that out after the second day when I had to convince the pastor to have the baby tested. With medicine and ARV’s, the baby could have a chance, unlike the sister before him, who had died around the same age.
If the mother had been tested any time in the past few years, and had taken ARV’s drugs, this baby could have been born without HIV. If the baby had been taking ARV’s from the beginning, it could have been saved this traumatic event. But, what is even more maddening, is that, the baby will probably not live, because they will probably not either be faithful to take the ARV’s or will refuse to, out of fear of stigma and mistreatment of people in the community or some other obstacle that happens so often.
I am not kidding. The fear of HIV/AIDS runs so deep that people will choose to live in ignorance and denial rather than receive a free test, free counseling, free medicine and free follow-ups for the rest of their lives.
Please pray for Zambians and African in general.
Update: After four days in the hospital, and a healthy and medicine month, they stopped their medicines because they couldn’t afford the “review” price. If there is one thing you can't do with HIV medicine is miss even a day. I was in the states at the time. They finally got the money to go and switched to a free government clinic. A few weeks later, the baby got sick one Friday afternoon, went to the clinic for a blood draw and then died that night. That was three days ago. I didn't go to the funeral. I am not sure why. Maybe I am still to angry. It conflicted with my own family schedule. I am still wrestling with all of that. I should have gone. It was the right thing to do culturally. Anyway, we move on... Will the mother finally get tested and get on ARV’S? It remains to be seen. Such is the life we live here... Pray for us, too... I apologize if this was a little too raw. Sometimes, reality can’t be ignored anymore.
One more thing, my title was a bit of an exaggeration. It did matter. She got another couple months with her only daughter. She learned that the cause of the death is HIV related (whether she will admit that is another situation altogether) and hopefully as a result she will get tested, thus allowing her to live a healthier life and allow for another child. Maybe I didn't save the life of this baby, but perhaps I will allow a life to live if there is another baby.
So how do you play out in all of this? Could you pray? Check out our HIV/AIDS ministry that I am more and more sold on as a significant way to help fight this war against AIDS in Africa. Lastly, do a little inventory of your own life. Is there anything you are too afraid of checking into that you would rather (literally) die than deal with?