Dealing with AIDS in West Africa

An educator from the Alliance Biblique de Côte d’Ivoire conducts a public health lesson on AIDS in the sanctuary at Jerusalem Parish United Methodist Church in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire in this November 2008 file photo. Preventive education is among the topics that will be discussed during the United Methodist Global HIV/AIDS Committee West Africa Summit May 19-21 in Abidjan. (file photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS)

As the hub of the denomination’s healthcare system in Côte d’Ivoire, Dabou Methodist Hospital offers general medical, surgical and dental care and is known for its maternity ward.

Patients also come for treatment of HIV/AIDs, as participants in the United Methodist Global AIDS Committee West Africa Summit will discover when they visit the hospital the day before the May 19-21 workshop.

The summit, in the capital city of Abidjan, is co-chaired by Rev. Donald Messer, executive director of the Center for Health and Hope in Centennial, Colorado, and Rev. Isaac Broune, a pastor and communicator in Côte d’Ivoire.

The host country has been in charge of the planning and details.

“Isaac has done a great job and we feel so fortunate for his key leadership,” Messer said.

Roughly 30 participants will come from The United Methodist Church’s West Africa Central Conference’s Health and HIV committees, the U.S. and local and international partners. The West Africa Central Conference includes four episcopal areas, six annual conferences and ministry in six countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The goal of the summit is to give participants the tools to establish a plan of action for HIV/AIDS ministry within their own cultural and church contexts.

That includes sharing practical information about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment; looking at practical ways to involve religious leaders in the fight against HIV-AIDS; exchanging experience and best practices related to HIV/AIDS ministry; discussing stigma against those living with HIV/AIDS and setting up networking opportunities.

While there has been considerable international focus on periodic Ebola outbreaks, the same cannot be said for “the enduring, continued crisis of HIV/AIDS in Africa,” Messer pointed out.

“When you are in these countries, you know it’s far from over,” he said. “The issue is how to get people information about prevention and how to get them tested and treated.” Messer said about 40% of Africans not being reached “in a meaningful way” about HIV/AIDS prevention and testing and a large percentage of that number may already be HIV positive.

A 2017 report jointly published by UNICEF and UNAIDS, showed that West and Central Africa lagged behind in HIV prevention and treatment for children and adolescents. In 2016, an estimated 60,000 children were newly infected with HIV in West and Central Africa, with the highest number among those aged 15 to 19 years.

In addition, the use of life-saving antiretroviral therapy among children living with HIV is the lowest in the world, the report said, because of the limited capacity to perform the tests needed for early infant diagnosis of HIV.

The West Africa summit was proposed by Patrick Abro, a United Methodist missionary in Congo who served on the Global AIDS Committee from 2008 to 2016. Previous educational forums sponsored by the committee have taken place in East Africa (Nairobi), the Philippines (Manila) and the United States (Indianapolis).

When General Conference 2016, the denomination’s top legislative body, approved continuation of Global AIDS Committee, the West Africa summit was among the budget items. The actual funding came from contingency funds of the United Methodist Connectional Table, Messer said.