As I am sitting in a cab on my way home from a meeting with Rahham’s director and his family, fresh information and vibrant images swirl around in my head. Did you know that HIV-infected people need up to 30 percent more nutrition than healthy people? Or that it is often co-infections, like tuberculosis (TB) and hepatitis C, that end up killing infected people, because their immune systems become so weak? Have you ever thought of what it would be like, as a healthy child, to live with HIV-infected parents and siblings? Or how difficult it is to keep a job when your body is constantly busy fighting off disease and infection?
If, like me, you haven’t followed news and research about HIV closely since it ceased to be a hot topic, let me bring you up-to-date on some basic issues. HIV can be spread in four different ways: through sex, from infected mother to child, by sharing needles, and through blood transfusion. There are antiretroviral (ART) centers all around the world where people can get tested, and if HIV-positive, can receive medication. They then have to take this cocktail of drugs designed for them, usually twice a day for the rest of their lives, to keep the virus dormant. As Rahham’s director explains it, you want to keep the cobra in the cage. You will never be cured, you will never kill the snake, but you can keep the disease at bay and live a long life if you are able to follow protocol and take care of yourself.
There are countless factors to consider when managing life with HIV in India. The number one emotion HIV-infected people face daily—and I mean daily—is shame. Shame from immediate and extended family: you might never find anyone to marry, your family can cut you off and deny your inheritance, your children might grow up to hate you. Shame from the community: your neighbors will not interact with you, your landlord will likely kick your family out, you might lose your job and your meager income, or, if you are a child, teachers and peers may mock you. Shame from the church: some might leave if you start going to church, you might be judged for your assumed behavior and lifestyle, or people might look at you with not much more than pity. Shame and its consequences keep people from getting diagnosed on time, getting the medication they need, and taking care of themselves.
Another factor of life that stood out as we talked was the overwhelming reality of grief. According to Rahham staff, within a three-month period in an area where they work, 75 people recently died of TB—in most cases probably related to HIV, though many never get diagnosed. So many of the stories we heard started with, “She lost her first husband…” or, “This widow with a child….”
The Rahham staff visited one lady, Sapna, in her home. While there, they saw a family picture of six people on the wall. When they asked where everyone else was, Sapna and her daughter shared that they lost the father and three siblings—all gone in six years.
The heavy emotions of shame and grief are added onto the daily, practical difficulties of making ends meet and managing community life, marriage, work, parenting and health. We believe that our faithful prayers for all angles of this issue are crucial for HIV-infected people to live abundant lives.
- Pray for churches to reach out to and welcome HIV-affected families with openness, love and acceptance instead of judgment and pity. Pray for the local church to be a lighthouse, a refuge, a community of hope—a place where spiritually and physically broken people can all walk together in forgiveness and unity.
- Pray for individuals and families who are grieving lost loved ones. Pray that within their own communities they can offer each other comfort, encouragement, and help. Pray for widows and orphans and the burden they must carry daily. Pray against depression and suicidal thoughts.
- Pray for all aspects of life here that are affected by shame: for merciful families, for job and school opportunities for HIV-infected people, for understanding landlords, for kind neighbors and friends.
- Pray for the medical aspects: for trained, equipped, and compassionate medical staff; for pregnant mothers to get screened; pray for timely HIV diagnoses; pray that people are able to get to the ART centers, especially from rural areas; pray against abortion and for community and family support.
- Pray for Rahham staff: for deep trust in the Lord; for provision and resources for their families and service; and for more churches to walk alongside them.
- Pray for life and life-in-abundance for HIV-affected families (John 10:10)—for them to find their ultimate hope in Jesus.
••••••••••Written by Adrienn