Overall life expectancy in Botswana will be reduced to 27 years within eight years, according to a large-scale study by the US Census Bureau. By 2010, the inhabitants of eleven Southern African countries are unlikely to live to see their 30th birthday and populations will begin to shrink in some nations.
In Botswana, the worst affected country, 39% of the adult population are HIV positive. Life expectancy stands currently at 34 years, less than half the 70 years or more it would be without Aids.
The figures were released at the recent International Aids Conference in Barcelona in July. The fifteen thousand delegates were told that the Aids pandemic, which is already the worst in human history, could lead to global catastrophe as the disease spreads in Africa, the Caribbean, China, India and Southeast Asia.
Scientists hope to produce an Aids vaccine within five years, but experts are cautious. There have been a number of ‘false dawns’ in the treatment of Aids, and even if a vaccine were produced the cost of supplying it would be prohibitive for impoverished nations.
The United Nations’ HIV agency UNAIDS estimates that $10 billion a year would be required to tackle the world-wide crisis effectively. At present only $3 billion is being spent.
At the same time there is sobering news that strains of the HIV virus are emerging that are resistant to hitherto successful drug ‘cocktail therapy’. Research at the University of San Francisco has shown that more than a quarter of new HIV patients in the city carry a drug-resistant strain of the virus.
Ironically, the success of drug treatments in Britain and USA has made many careless about contracting the disease through casual and indiscriminate sexual behaviour. The researchers emphasise that Aids remains incurable and its control by drugs is under threat.
The enormous toll of the Aids pandemic, both in terms of human misery and economic cost, is only now beginning to become clear. In some countries the whole fabric of society is collapsing.
At one time, most of those affected brought their suffering on themselves, by homosexual acts or drug abuse. But now the number of innocent victims, including new-born children, is rising rapidly.
After the initial shock when AIDS first surfaced in Western nations, there has been a growing apathy towards the subject. Everyone thought there would soon be a cure, so why worry?
We now have an answer to that question. The human race is facing a threat far greater than that of nuclear warfare or natural disaster.
Of course, to many the Aids problem is just that – a natural disaster with no further implication. But if ever biblical warnings against sin were fulfilled this is surely a prime example.
Without homosexual practices, it is unlikely that Aids would ever have established itself as the scourge it has become.
Romans 1:24-28 traces the matter with grisly accuracy, indicting homosexuality (among other sins) as both the cause and on-going consequence of God’s judgement on human wickedness.
Nothing will stay the onslaught of this dreadful epidemic in the short term, if ever. But for individuals caught up in its wake there is hope. It is not hope of a cure for Aids but of forgiveness and the gift of eternal life.
For Paul’s searing indictment of man’s sin in Romans 1 is a prelude to his proclamation of the gospel in Romans 3. ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 3:23-24).
Let us urge those afflicted in this life to seek the mercy of God and salvation through the grace of Christ. Life is never too short to seek the Lord while he may be found.