AIDS prevention discussed at Dialogue on Diversity annual spring lecture

Panel members David Ames, left, Stephen Hogan Jr., Peter Mendy and Joanne Costello discuss the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Panel members David Ames, left, Stephen Hogan Jr., Peter Mendy and Joanne Costello discuss the HIV/AIDS crisis.

David Ames
Nearly 80,000 people die every year from AIDS and other communicable diseases in third-world countries such as Malawi, Africa. This startling news, and ways to prevent such deaths, was the topic of an address by David Ames, community and congregational relations officer at Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance (GAIA). Ames spoke at the 14th annual Dialogue on Diversity spring lecture on April 8.

GAIA is an organization aimed at combating the disease in Africa and educating communities on AIDS awareness and prevention.

Ames, who is a RIC adjunct faculty member, stressed the importance of AIDS education, citing the cause for the rapid spread of the epidemic in places like Malawi to unprotected sex and an insufficient number of proper screening facilities.

Ames said that many people in the region are practicing Catholics, and look to their religion for guidance and improvement in their communities. But in a recent visit to Malawi, the Pope denounced the use of condoms as a means of preventing reproduction. Ames said that although he is an ordained Episcopal priest, the statement left him horrified.

“Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world with a very high incidence of HIV/AIDS and a high rate of infant mortality,” said Ames. “Out of a population of 13.5 million people, the average age is 15, and life expectancy is 41 years.”

A board on display shows work the GAIA has undertaken in Malawi.
According to the GAIA website there are over 500,000 orphaned children every year in Malawi – 3.7 percent of the population. Fifteen percent of the adult population between the ages of 15-49 is infected, with a total number if infected individuals at 940,000, nearly seven percent of the total population.

Joining Ames in a panel discussion were Joanne Costello, RIC assistant professor of nursing; Peter Mendy, RIC associate professor of history; and Stephen Hogan Jr., development director of AIDS Project Rhode Island.

“The universal antidote is education, access and care,” said Hogan. He added that there are almost 3,000 cases of AIDS in R.I.

The panel agreed that condoms help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, while abstinence is still the only surefire option for stopping sexually transmitted diseases. Mendy also mentioned that AIDS is confined to the southern part of the country, and that there is a common misconception that all of Africa is plagued by the disease.

During the question and answer period a member of the audience asked why GAIA had chosen to go to Malawi.

“Because it’s an English speaking country. We’re a small company and we can track our progress (there),” replied Ames.

Ames said that GAIA strives towards the eight United Nations millennium development goals, with emphasis on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, promoting gender equality and empowering women, and combating HIV/AIDS, as well as other diseases like malaria.

At the end of the question and answer session, two young women in the audience asked, “How do we donate?” Ames directed them to the GAIA website.

“I thought that Dr. Ames truly brought the reality of life in Malawi to the conference participants,” said Costello. “The work that Dr. Ames and his group are doing offers promise of the beginning of sustainable change for Malawi.”