The global HIV/AIDS epidemic is an unprecedented crisis that requires an unprecedented response. In particular it requires solidarity — between the healthy and the sick, between rich and poor, and above all, between richer and poorer nations. We have 30 million orphans already. How many more do we have to get, to wake up?”
— Kofi Annan – 2001
This week I had an opportunity to investigate AIDS “now” on more of a global level. An estimated 40,000 children in South Africa are infected with HIV each year reflecting an impoverished region lacking in both awareness and prevention. 40,000 Children…and the number of premature deaths due to HIV/AIDS has risen significantly over the last decade from 39 percent to 75 percent in 2010 in South Africa. It is estimated there are 1.9 million AIDS orphans where one or both parents are deceased in South Africa and that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is responsible for half of the country’s orphans.
In some cases orphaned, often HIV infected, children are cared for by institutions but with an overwhelming amount of children and lack of resources it is seemingly impossible to help them all, let alone stop the cycle from continuing.
This week I met with Felito Utuie, who is here in Dayton, OH visiting from Mozambique. At 29 years old, he has spent a majority of his life focused on outreach and missions to improve the quality of life for 1000s of people. Felito, explained the devastating numbers of children who are left with no one to care for them because of the still growing AIDS epidemic. His regions lack of educational resources forces many fathers to leave their families for work in other cities because they don’t have adequate training, being gone for years at time. He describes, infidelity as being fairly common and husbands succumbing to temptation from prostitutes while being away from their wives for long periods of time. This has lead to the rise of infection being spread and when they return to their villages, so does the HIV virus; infecting their wives and increasing mother-to-child infection. This cycle has lead to some over 380,000 orphans in Gaza, a region where Felito has ventured upon his next outreach. One of which, he believes will have a remarkable impact.
“Children caring of children” is how Felito explained the devastating numbers of those with no one to care for them. We know that the loss of a parent has an immense emotional impact on child but to be without any else to care for them once their gone is a far worse tragedy. An estimated 70 percent of those orphaned are the result of losing their parent to the AIDS virus in South Africa.
A New Village
I felt chills listening to the stories and watching Felito as he talked about his journey and how for most of his life his path has been to help others. I referred to his vision as being a new village as he laid out the blueprints of what he was planning because calling it an orphanage really does it no justice. A center of stability, education, empowerment and most importantly one which will provide the family dynamic these children so desperately need is what Felito is getting ready to create. While his focus is to help with the short term needs of the orphans the home will be residence to, he has also considered heavily what he can do to stop the cycle by working with adults and caretakers as well as educating the young.
I asked Felito for a ballpark figure of the costs associated with his plan thinking he was going to have to raise some unfathomable amount and was floored when he said, ” Only $50,000 to build the orphanage.” Individual homes for both the children and their caretakers, recreational programs, education and career centers, land for farming and livestock are among several other offerings including health and wellness all on 73 Acres of Lands will cost $2 million to complete however which he will rely on donation partly for.
Despite awareness campaigns, accurate knowledge about HIV and AIDS is still poor amongst the people and children Felito has come across on his missions and he would also like to focus more on educating on prevention. I had to sit back and take a breath because I couldn’t really put my hands around one person taking on such mission, but he his and I was in awe.
I asked about government barriers and if there were anything hindering him from moving forward. Felito described his efforts as being met with little resistance but that most officials (Chiefs) wanted something for themselves in return for “allowing his efforts which was of no real surprise to him or myself. Politics are the same no matter what side of the world you are on.
Could one person really be so selfless to embark on such a journey? The answer was clearly yes, but Felito also explained his personal connection to the AIDS virus. Having a brother who had died from the disease, Felito understood first hand the devasting affects the disease has on both the infected and their loved ones. Healthcare and AIDS resources in South African Countries are substantially different then that of other countries, though minimal improvements have been made. It is evident that awareness and prevention are measurable efforts that these countries will rely on more in years to come.
More on AIDS and South Africa
While AIDS continues to be a global concern, almost all those living with HIV (97%) reside in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa approximately 22.4 million people. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most people living with HIV or at risk for HIV do not have access to prevention, care, and treatment in these countries affected. South Africa’s HIV and AIDS epidemic has had a devastating effect on children in a number of ways. There were an estimated 330,000 under 15 years old living with HIV in 2009. Other infectious diseases, food insecurity, and economic instability plague these regions and though an astounding amount of funds and programs have been given to create new programs for awareness and prevention, the fight still continues.
How You Can Help.
I commend Felito on his efforts and I am honored to have had the chance to sit down with him. I am once again reminded of the magnitude of AIDS and how it is affecting the world around me. I look forward to following him on his journey, our continued friendship and one day visiting his village and partaking on his mission.
AIDS is a global problem and there should be a global solution found by the entire international community. It is really scary to see and imagine our world fall into pieces because we refuse to share and put in the common vestiges of our civilizations.