HIV in Belarus
On December 1 is World Aids Day. Politicians and experts agree the issue has lost none of its relevance. We also find this in Belarus where we are working with many former drug addicts in our Rehab Center who are HIV positive.
1996 is considered the year of national breakout of the HIV epidemic in Belarus, with number of people affected skyrocketing and the cemetaries growing every day.
The city adminsitration of Svetlagorsk, considered the nation's drug capital, had reached a point of desperation; so they invited us, a group of Christian, as they had realited that we would be willing to work even among the hopeless cases and HIV patients.
When our team started working in Svetlagorsk, people in other cities were afraid even to shake somebody's hand or rent an appartment to people from Svetlagorsk. Now, more than 20 years later, the situation has changed, the social stigma is gone, HIV is no longer a phantom. Even the attitude of docttros and security forces has changed who used to think that drug users basically only had themselves to blame for their situation.
Even though almost all HIV patients reveice anti-retroviral therapy today, still more than one in four syringe users are HIV positive. As a consequence, they suffer from severe diseases like hepatitis, tuberculosis, sepsis or massive fungal infections. Sooner or later they are going to die. While doctors are able to help alleviate side effects, they are not really able to give any hope of a new life, freedom from drugs or healing from the various diseases that come with years of drug abuse.
But despite this ongoing situation, the Rehab Center of TOS Ministries is no place of gloom and despair. The former addicts know about their situation and the perspective they would usually have. But their new life free from drugs has given them hope and a new perspective for their future: faith, fellowship with like-minded people, a new goal in life and improved medical care give them a very positive outlook on life. For all doctors knew, many of them should have been dead long ago, but they have overcome potentially lethal diseases, start families of their own, and even have healthy children which shows that even the curse of a child contracting HIV in its mother's womb has been broken.
While the situation continues to be serious and people still die, there is hope, and the motivated team from the Rehab Center keeps visiting the places where they know they will find the addicts to share the Good News also with them.