The first lady of Uganda calls AIDS a threat to the populations of entire countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Janet Museveni, the wife of President Yoweri Museveni, was the keynote speaker at an international conference in Washington on AIDS.
She spoke on the final day of a four-day conference in Washington D.C. on Christianity and AIDS. Nearly 1,000 people have attended from 87 countries suffering from the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Uganda is one of a very few African countries that took on the AIDS crisis early, addressing the problem as a public health crisis. Uganda's first lady, Janet Museveni, has been a leader in the country's AIDS campaign.
Mrs. Museveni founded a program to provide education and support for Uganda's 1.7 million AIDS orphans. The first lady stressed the disease has not only robbed children of their parents, but of much of their extended family as well, endangering the fabric of Ugandan society. "The able-bodied uncles and aunties have also succumbed to the same disease," she said, "often leaving only the grandmothers to care for their grandchildren."
Mrs. Museveni says that, in founding a community-based organization to help provide micro-loans to foster families that take in AIDS orphans, the fabric of the Ugandan community is being re-woven and many children do not have to be sent to orphanages.
"My experience of more than a decade in this work," she noted, "has taught me to acknowledge that the strength of any country is truly in its people, even the old and the poor. The people in these poor communities are the true, albeit unsung heroes and heroines of the trying period we have been going through."
The AIDS conference, called "Prescription for Hope," was organized by the Reverend Franklin Graham, the minister-son of American Christian Evangelist Billy Graham. His North-Carolina-based charity, Samaritan's Purse, is spending more than $2 million on the conference. Its goal is to inspire more volunteers for the fight against AIDS and to link those who are already working to battle the disease.
Ken Isaacs, the project director for the charity, said too many Christian churches have been complacent about the AIDS pandemic, both in the United States and elsewhere.
"One of the big church resources is prayer, and I feel like that American mainline churches in large part have feelings of disassociation from the international AIDS crisis," said Mr. Isaacs. "They hear about it. They know there's AIDS in the U.S. And I would hope that this stimulates them to look into themselves and sell how God would want them to react to this crisis.
Jacqueline Hodgkins, who was among the participants, is a large woman with a quick smile, who is a minister in Uganda. She runs a non-profit agency called "Welcome Home Ministries Africa" which pays for a home she runs for abandoned AIDS babies. "I run a home for HIV babies, for malnourished kids and abandoned babies," she explained. "We have seventy babies from the age of three to newborn."
The only requirement for kids to get in her home, says Reverend Hodgkins, is that they be dying.
Project director Ken Isaacs says he will consider the conference a success if it highlights the grassroots work being done in countries around the world and galvanizes evangelical Christians into action.