Fr Michael Lewis SJ, JESAM President, congratulates AJAN but warns that tough times lie ahead as funds decline for the struggle against AIDS, which remains a deadly force in sub-Saharan Africa.
A ten-year anniversary is not one usually celebrated with great pomp and circumstance but then AJAN is no ordinary institution, still less one given to pomp and circumstance. For AJAN this anniversary is a time to give thanks and evaluate what has been achieved. It is clear that the Network has attained a number of remarkable objectives, most of which are due to the indefatigable enthusiasm and courage of the two coordinators, Frs Michael Czerny and Paterne Mombé, and their helpers. I can’t emphasise enough how much we have been helped by the generosity of our overseas donors and brother Jesuits. We have much to be grateful for.
I remember a friend of mine, who would subsequently die of AIDS, pointing out the issue of Time magazine, published in 1982, which alerted the world to the appearance of this disease that had started to be diagnosed in the US. Thirty years on, we have come a long way in our understanding of the pandemic, but over 30 million people have died of AIDS, millions of children have been orphaned and ignorance and prejudice continue to cause great suffering.
AJAN came onto the scene some 20 years after AIDS was first diagnosed and has done magnificent work. First of all, Fr Czerny showed JESAM how important it was that this apostolate becomes a work of the whole body of Jesuits in Africa and Madagascar. And so it was. AJAN started by raising awareness among Jesuits themselves and went on to encourage the establishment of centres and programmes for HIV education and AIDS care in Jesuit provinces throughout the continent. As a network, AJAN kept up the communication between these works and channelled funds and other means to support them.
The next decade poses fresh and difficult challenges. The general perception is that HIV/AIDS is now a controllable chronic condition easily treatable with modern ARV drugs. While this may be the case in developed countries, it is not so in Africa and Madagascar, where Jesuits and their co-workers help poor and struggling people who often don’t have the necessary medication due to bad management and, sometimes, sheer corruption. AJAN is faced with the challenge of continuing to support these ministries and of keeping awareness of the pandemic alive in the consciousness of developed countries so that the people of Africa will not die needlessly. We are all aware of the disastrous state of many national economies and this of course impacts negatively on the resources of AJAN.
On behalf of JESAM, I congratulate all involved in the work of AJAN over the last 10 years, thank God for what has been achieved and offer our encouragement and prayers that the next decade will be as fruitful as the last, even if it will be much more difficult given the prevailing global climate.