When HIV looks like the least of your worries

>> DRC-UGANDA: Overwhelmed relief workers struggle to provide HIV services (IRIN/PlusNews, 18 November 2008)

This sad story about refugees fleeing from violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo sheds light not only on the breadth and depth of problems facing the people of that country, but also the extreme difficulty of dealing with HIV/AIDS in the face of other disasters.  According to the article,

Violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has forced thousands of people to flee across the border into neighbouring countries, but relief workers in Uganda admit that HIV is low on the list of priorities.

“[NGOs] are prioritising water, sanitation, basic health; they are doing a broad intervention,” said Innocent Asiimwe, a repatriation officer at the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR. “They might do immunisations next week, but until that’s sorted, they won’t have time for HIV. We need a health partner to target HIV on the ground.”

You know you’re in a bad situation when HIV/AIDS has to go on the back burner because you’re facing so many more immediate and pressing problems.  It’s like triage: relief workers have to spend their time and dwindling resources on the most time-sensitive emergencies . . . HIV doesn’t kill people immediately, so it has to wait.

I suppose this is also one reason why HIV often thrives in the worst conditions.  It’s easy for disease to spread when it doesn’t seem like that big a deal in comparison with everything else, or when all available resources have to be used to meet immediate, short-term needs.

Related to this article, I’d like to comment just briefly on the situation in the DRC as a whole.  The BBC describes it this way:

A vast country with immense economic resources, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) has been at the centre of what could be termed Africa’s world war.

This has left it in the grip of a humanitarian crisis.

The five-year conflict pitted government forces, supported by Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, against rebels backed by Uganda and Rwanda. Despite a peace deal and the formation of a transitional government in 2003, the threat of civil war has re-emerged in the east of the country.

This is one of the truly horrific tragedies of recent history.  The people of the DRC have seen so little peace and safety, so much fear and brutality, for so many years.  (The DRC has experienced a 1998-2003 civil/regional war, as well as further violence, which has recently escalated.)  Further, their plight seems all but forgotten by the rest of the world — that is, those parts of the world not directly affected by the violence.

To be perfectly honest, I basically had no idea what the situation in the DRC was and is like until it was featured in a few episodes of the NBC series “ER” several years ago.  I was really shocked by what I saw in that storyline, which, though fictional, revealed an ugly truth.  The DRC has been on my mind on and off ever since, and this story brought it to the uppermost.

This is an extremely complicated situation, and my understanding of it is far from perfect.  But I think it is important to learn at least something about the DRC and its troubles, if for no other reason than because it needs so much help and so much prayer.

As it so often does, the BBC comes through with very helpful, basic information about the country, with links to further background information, news, and other resources.  I’d encourage you to check out this site: Country profile: Democratic Republic of Congo.  Thanks.


~ by h.e.g. on November 30, 2008.

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