The Lazarus effect revisited

By James Addis, Senior Editor

Lazarus Effect

(Jon Warren/WV)

I had a strong feeling of déjà vu watching “60 Minutes” last Sunday. Their second story related how funding made available during the last Bush presidency to combat AIDS was saving millions of lives in Africa by making available anti-retroviral drugs.

“America’s Gift” spoke about what they referred to as the “Lazarus Syndrome”—describing how ARVs were enabling AIDS-sufferers to literally get up off their death beds and start living again.

That had me flicking through back issues of World Vision magazine to Autumn 2008, where I had written about exactly the same phenomenon in a story entitled, “The Lazarus Effect.”

Lazarus Effect

World Vision caregivers receive bicycles so they can visit patients in their homes. (Jon Warren/WV)

The focus of the “60 Minutes” yarn was Uganda, whereas my story was based in Zambia. However, a critical point made in both was that George W. Bush’s vision back in 2003 in committing $15 billion toward AIDS projects—then the largest sum ever committed to a foreign health initiative—was having extraordinarily beneficial effects. Whatever else one might think of Bush’s foreign policy; this is certainly one thing he got right.

“60 Minutes” went on to make the point that the move had generated enormous goodwill toward the United States in Africa. As one health worker put it, “The impression that people in Africa have of America is that America is no longer the world’s policeman. It is now Africa’s friend.”

Lazarus Effect

Medical care gives those living with HIV hope for thier children. (Jon Warren/WV)

There were, of course, differences in the two stories. “60 Minutes” tended to focus narrowly on the provision of ARVs, whereas my story, about World Vision’s RAPIDS program, looked at several other aspects. These included the training of volunteer health workers to help people take the medication (it can be a complex treatment regimen); AIDS prevention education in schools; and—an often neglected aspect of the crisis—the need to care for the millions of orphans that AIDS has produced.

That’s no criticism of “60 Minutes” though. It was a powerful piece of journalism, and, while overwhelmingly optimistic, captured the horror that AIDS has wrought on African families. Particularly poignant were the scenes of couples who had congregated in a big marquee to get an AIDS test and allowed themselves to be filmed as they received their results. One HIV-negative husband physically distanced himself from his tearful, pregnant wife who turned out to be positive. Painful though the scene was, the fact she got the U.S-funded test means she can now access ARVs and take precautions not to infect her unborn baby.

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