Around 33.2 million people across the world are currently living with HIV. Of these, 22.5 million live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Although ARVs are not a cure, they can dramatically restore the health and strength of someone living with HIV, and extend their life, because they delay the rate at which the virus replicates.
However, although the medicines are increasingly available for free in low-income countries, around seven in ten people who need them are still unable to access them.
Tearfund’s Alive appeal, launched to coincide with World AIDS Day on Monday (December 1), aims to tackle this injustice by mobilising churches across the UK to campaign and pray.
Across the world, Tearfund’s partner agencies are already inspiring and equipping church volunteers to help more people access ARV treatment.
“ARVs are a gift of God,” said one local church volunteer about how ARVs have changed the way the church in Gondola District, Mozambique, responded to HIV.
Before, local church volunteers helped people to die with dignity. Now they help them to live, says the agency. With practical and emotional support from the volunteer and proper nutrition, ARV medicines can give people living in poverty with HIV many more years of healthy life, and prevent more children growing up as orphans.
Tearfund’s vision is to halt the spread of HIV and reverse the impact of AIDS by 2015 in the countries where it works.
Paul Brigham, Tearfund UK Director for Church and Supporter Services, said: “When it comes to HIV, the church is already one of the greatest sources of hope that many in the developing world will ever encounter. Small, anonymous, and often themselves impoverished, local churches are reaching out and providing their neighbours with a lifeline.
“Christians are overcoming stigma and helping those with HIV to access treatment, care and support. Alive is an opportunity for Churches across the UK to join those who are already tackling the effects of HIV.”
Dr Stephen Watiti, who works at the Mildmay Hospital in Uganda treating people living with HIV, is currently visiting the UK with Tearfund. Dr Watiti has also been living with HIV himself since the 1980s and is currently on ARV treatment.
Dr Watiti said it was at first difficult for him to speak openly about his HIV status but he knew it was the right thing to do, given his unique position as a doctor and a Christian.
He said: “When God gave me a new lease of life I realised I have an obligation to speak out. Psalm 118:17, especially the second part, has been my theme. (‘I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord)’.
“My openness has also become part of my medical practice. Whenever I tell my HIV patients that I have the same challenge I always see a glow on their face. I know it works. My openness has been like a balm to me. It is difficult to live a double life. I believe my being alive today is because I open up.”
He added: “Although I live with HIV, with good care and treatment, I am not dying.”