Sunday, May 27, 2007

HIV/AIDS, is there any hope?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), colour-enhanced electron microscope image, 24,000× magnification. Oliver Meckes and Gelderblom/Art Resource, New York

Over the past decade or so, Marina and I have witnessed quite a number of Loron people dying from AIDS. It is a horrific disease which strikes fear and despair into the hearts of all those who come in close contact with it.

A couple of weeks ago, a young man came from Ivory Coast and was admitted to the hospital here in Gaoua, Burkina Faso. We have known him for almost twenty years, and we were shocked to see this tall, strong man reduced to a shadow of his former self.

After a week or so of treatment, the hospital released him and let him go home. They couldn’t do anything more for him, although they did manage to stop a severe bout of hiccups which had afflicted him for about 6 days. We brought him back to his village where he will spend the last few weeks of his life.

There are three stages with HIV/AIDS.
1 - The first is when the person becomes infected with the virus, HIV.

Over the first couple of weeks the virus multiplies rapidly, and the infected person usually has flu-like symptoms which may include fever, enlarged lymph nodes, sore throat, muscle and joint pain, rash, and malaise.

An uninfected adult has typically between 500 and 1,000 CD4 white cells per micro-litre of blood. Once a person contracts HIV, the CD4 count starts to drop.

2 - The second stage is when the virus slowly develops in the person.

This can last between 5-10 years, without any obvious symptoms of illness.

The CD4 cell count gradually continues to fall until it reaches around 200 cells per micro-litre of blood.

3 - The final stage of HIV infection is called AIDS, during which time fatal infections and cancers frequently arise.

At this stage the CD4 cell count has dropped below 200, and the person no longer has any protection from or resistance to a wide variety of illnesses.

The young man from Gogo had a cell count of just 50 when we brought him home last week.

There wouldn’t appear to be much hope for him, but what about his two young wives?

There are medicines now available for those infected with HIV which can help to dramatically slow down the unset of full-blown AIDS. But, among the Loron people, discussion of the illness is almost taboo.

Pray that we will have the wisdom and courage we need as we try to get these two ladies tested for HIV, and if need be, started on the medication that can help them live a lot longer.