Some 20 years ago, the first person was diagnosed with what we now commonly know as the HIV virus and AIDS. Today, there are 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, according to UNAIDS and the World Health Organization.

 

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) issued a warning last week that the number of children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa alone was expected to double to 25 million by the end of the decade. UNICEF said sub-Saharan Africa faced an explosion of parentless children because of the spread of the disease.

 

According to CNS News, Carol Bellamy, UNICEF'S executive director, accused the international community of a "grossly inadequate" response to the threat children in the region face. A recent survey conducted by the Barna Research Group seems to bear this out.

Barna reported that just 3 percent of evangelicals said they "definitely" would help children orphaned because of AIDS, compared with 5 percent of all respondents.

 

While the survey showed evangelicals are less likely than other Americans to help children orphaned by AIDS, a number of people and Christian organizations have labored on the frontlines of this crisis for years.

 

World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization serving the poor in nearly 100 countries, started its first AIDS programs a decade ago, relatively early in the international response to the epidemic. 

The agency's first work included assistance for AIDS orphans and their foster families in Uganda, care for HIV-infected babies and children in Romania, and support for teens and young women escaping prostitution in Thailand.

 

Today, World Vision is combating AIDS in several nations in Africa, Asia and other regions of the world. According to World Vision Vice President Steve Haas, programs are comprised of three elements: prevention, advocacy and action.

 

"If you can reach a child by the time they are 5," says Haas, "there is a very good chance they don't have AIDS. If you can reach them before 15, and really help them understand what AIDS is and how it is contracted, and why is it important to abstain from sex until a time when a committed relationship is available to you, you often can save a life."

 

World Vision sees sponsorship of children in high prevalence communities as the critical link. For just $2 a month more than a regular sponsorship -- a total of $30 per month -- people can specifically sponsor AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children. The easiest way to sponsor an AIDS orphan, or to learn more about the organization's efforts, is by visiting www.worldvision.org

 

"What we are finding in the African community," says Haas, "which is dealing with a severe food shortage, a vulnerable child is made far more vulnerable to disease and to greater levels of poverty. Increasingly, this is our sponsorship in southern Africa. Orphans are in such great number that the community is stressed. "