By Jhoanna Resari
My ministry work includes providing education, training and assistance to enable Church leaders and migrant communities in the Hsinchu diocese to respond to the realities of HIV and AIDS. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I became more aware of how COVID-19 threatens the progress made over the years in stopping AIDS globally, specifically in prevention, testing and sup-port for people living with HIV and AIDS.
These issues are also experienced by migrant workers who are vulnerable to HIV infection. They’ve been facing barriers in HIV prevention even before the COVID-19 pandemic. These include low level of knowledge of HIV-related services, low perception of risk to HIV infection, language barriers, confidentiality gaps, low priority to healthcare, cultural and gender norms that discourage individuals from taking HIV tests, and fear of stigma and discrimination.
Just these past months, three migrant workers were diagnosed with HIV in the diocese. Soon after they received immediate medical care and assistance, they were repatriated. And in their home countries, due to lockdowns, restrictions, health care service disruptions, financial problems and unemployment brought about by COVID-19, they would have faced difficulties in accessing tests, antiretroviral treatment and support -- all crucial to their health and wellbeing. Facing all these are quite disheartening, not only for the individual, but for their families, too.
|Migrant Community Education campaign during World AIDS Day|
During this Easter season, confronted by these realities brought about by two global health issues that have already impacted, and cost, millions of lives, it is more important to reflect more deeply on what hope means during these challenging times.
Pope Francis’ homily during Easter vigil last year inspires me to deepen my understanding of hope. He said that because of the resurrection of Jesus, “…we acquire a fundamental right that can never be taken away from us: the right to hope. It is a new and living hope that comes from God. It is not mere optimism; it is not a pat on the back or an empty word of encouragement. It is a gift from heaven, which we could not have earned on our own.”
|Pastoral Training in Response to HIV/AIDS|
Such hope moves us to action. It is not just up to governments and medical experts to respond during these times of crises. Each one of us has a moral responsibility to take action because, just like ripples caused by a small pebble thrown into the water, our actions can cause ripples of effect that can impact the world around us. Some ways of how we can be people of hope are by being responsible for our own behaviors to lessen and eliminate the risk of infection; by being compassionate to people living with or affected by these illnesses; and by examining our own attitudes and perceptions to be able to fight stigma and discrimination that often times cause more harm than the illnesses themselves.
Sustained by God’s gift of this new and living hope we received in Easter, we can leave the darkness caused by our fears and helplessness in these uncertain times. Even as we continue to face dangers that lie ahead, we can move forward with confidence and joy of being witnesses of the risen Christ, who calls us not to be afraid, for God has always been, and will always be, with us.