28/03/08

Saving souls not lives: missionaries in Ukraine

I’m not a regular reader of the Mission News Network, but I couldn’t help snapping to attention when they re-drew the global HIV map: “Parts of the former Soviet Union are starting to see infection rates surpassing those of Africa,” they declared, singling out Ukraine. Last time I looked, around 1.4% of adults in Ukraine were infected with HIV, compared with 6.1% in Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, and over 15% in eight countries in southern Africa.

Of course that 1.4% figure hides something much more frightening: among Ukranians who inject drugs, between 20% and 50% are infected with HIV across most of the country. (pdf)

These people need clean needles and condoms, so that they can avoid passing on their infection. They need access to methadone and other treatments that will help them to stop injecting, and eventually to get off drugs completely. But Russian Ministries, an Illinois-based organisation with a budget of over three million dollars a year, has other ideas about how to help. According to the Russian Ministries update:

“For the second year in a row, young Next Generation Christians from the Rivne “School Without Walls” presented “Stop Drugs,” a weeklong event that included talks about God and Christian morals, an art contest and culminated in a concert with Christian music bands.”

The missionaries issue this “Call To Action”:

* Pray that Russian Ministries will be effective in helping train church leaders in cutting-edge outreach.
* Pray that the church will be influential in reducing the HIV/AIDS rate in Ukraine.

The online missionaries are in no doubt that getting involved with HIV prevention will save souls. Which is all well and good. But unless they provide clean needles, condoms and other essential services as well as prayers, they will save souls without saving lives.

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This post was published on 28/03/08 in Ideology and HIV.

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