Currently, three-quarters of AIDS cases are in Africa, and while this figure is daunting, there are groups facing the problem head-on.
One such group is Tree of Lives, which is currently treating thousands of people in Kenya.
In a slum of Nairobi, less than one square mile in area, 160,000 of Kenya's poorest cram into what's known as Korogocho, which means "deep trash." There, human waste flows through streets lined with shacks made of tin cans.
But Tree of Lives, a team of American and Kenyan Christians, goes through the streets of Korogocho, encouraging people to get tested at their free AIDS clinic.
An astounding 40 percent test positive to the disease, but that's no longer an automatic death sentence, thanks to medicines called ARVs. They allow people to live long and healthy lives, but there are a few catches. AIDS patients must take the ARVs regularly for the rest of their lives.
Dec. 1 was World Aids Day, a time to raise awareness about a disease on the rise around the world. Click here to find out how you can help.
Tree of Lives makes sure patients and their families know how and when to take the medicine, and schedules regular check-ups. ARVs only work if the patient is properly nourished, so Tree of Lives also buys,and delivers healthy food to AIDS patients. The group helps them earn money to buy their own food by helping them start their own small businesses.
Unfortunately, not everyone with AIDS responds to treatment. For them, Tree of Lives runs a hospice center. Many AIDS patients request to be taken out of their homes and moved into the hospice so their death will not be witnessed by their children. Hospice workers make sure the patients are comfortable and cared-for. They pray with them, reminding them of of the dawning of a new day, an everlasting day of light, through the saving power of Jesus Christ.
Many children have suffered the loss of both of their parents to AIDS. Tree of Lives makes sure those youngsters are clean, well fed and loved.
Steps Towards AIDS Prevention
In addition to treating AIDS victims and their families, Tree of Lives also engages in AIDS prevention.
A program targeting teenage boys performs safe circumcisions. The Centers for Disease Control estimates a 60 percent reduction of HIV/AIDS for circumcised versus uncircumcised males. The teens also learn Christian values such as abstinence before marriage and monogamy after marriage.
Tree of Lives also runs a prevention program aimed at teenage girls. It's called the Women of Worth program, and teaches young ladies self-esteem and biblical virtues such as remaining sexually pure until marriage and being faithful to your husband after marriage.
About 50 miles outside of Nairobi, in rural Kenya, Tree of Lives has an AIDS hospital. There, pregnant women with AIDS receive treatment that stops the transmission of AIDS from the mother to her infant during delivery.
Inspiring the Gift of Giving
Tree of Lives is based at First Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, Va. The church has donated nearly 350,000 to the group.
Speaking from the pulpit, the pastor points out the bounty Americans enjoy. She then encourages the congregation to give out of their blessings, because the Bible says to whom much is given, much is expected.
Several people in the congregation pay the Tree of Lives operating expenses out of their own pockets. That way, other donation can go directly to"on the ground" in Africa.
About 50 people from First Presbyterian Church have gone to Kenya to volunteer to help Tree of Lives. They are so moved by the experience, that not only do they sign-up to go again, but they also recruit others to go with them.
"I'm getting ready to go back for a third time," said Norfolk attorney Steve Story. "It's more important and more fulfilling than my legal work. I find that I'm making more of a contribution, more of a difference, through Tree of Lives, than from the things I do in my day-to-day work life."
Tree of Lives is hoping to change World Aids Day from a day of awareness to one of action. They're asking people to donate one day of pay to fight AIDS. They hope the practice will spread nationwide.
*This story originally aired December 1, 2008.