December 1 is World AIDS Day, and there’s reason for hope.

Bono says: “Africa is ablaze. We are called to help put out the fire!” God uses rock stars like Bono, celebrities like Madonna, and even politicians like GWB, as well as ordinary folks like you and me, ‘for such a time as this.’ The Continent is still on fire, but there are reasons for hope and encouragement. Because incarnations of the Messiah are on the move (see my sermon for World AIDS Day chapel at Drew).

Since 1989, World AIDS Day has raised our consciousness to the alarming stats of the global AIDS pandemic. By now, after 19 World AIDS Day observances, the stats are familiar:
• Five people die of AIDS every minute!
• In the same amount of time, nine more people are infected with HIV
• About 20 million people have died of AIDS since 1981
• Of the 33.2 million people have HIV/AIDS worldwide, 63% of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.
• Half of those living with HIV in Africa are orphaned or abandoned children. The common estimate is about 11 million orphans due to AIDS.

But this year, dramatic new data was released by UNAIDS and WHO suggesting a stabilizing if not downward trend for global AIDS:

• Previous global AIDS estimates were revised downward by 16% due to better methodology.
• The number of people dying from AIDS-related illnesses has declined in the last two years (2 million this year)
• 2 million received Antiretroviral drugs (ARV’s) worldwide (cf 400k in 2003)—thanks to the Global Fund–one of the more successful initiatives supported by President Bush.

Yet, it’s hard to rejoice too much when the number of people living with AIDS infections is still rising,
• When two million people — mostly in sub-Saharan Africa — are still dying from the disease each year,
• when eight countries in southern Africa have more than 15 percent of their populations infected.
• And when AIDS is still the #1 cause of death in Africa.

“The revised numbers cannot be used as an excuse to relax the campaign against AIDS,” officials warn.

Still, there is reason for hope in such a time as this. The Good News this year is that 2 million of the world’s poorest people living with HIV/AIDS are taking a little life-saving pill each day, that within 60 days reverses the waisting away and dying process.

Let us hope and pray that by next year, the trend is still downward, and that by 2020, AIDS will be history.