BY PIERS MCGRANDLE UP TO ONE IN four missionaries sent overseas are likely to return with the AIDS virus, according to Dr David Dixon, founder of the international AIDS agency ACET.
Writing in an update to his 1987 book The Truth About AIDS, Dr Dixon, who is widely-respected for his work on the virus, says that "in previous decades missionaries were always at risk of dying from the illnesses they came to fight, but in our scientific age it is quite a shock when men and women make the ultimate sacrifice".
He added "Because of the long time lag between infection and illness it is possible that HIV could become a major problem in a missionary community without anyone knowing, uoless there is some kind of regular testing. Just praying and hoping for the best may not be an adequate or responsible response".
And according to an they source, Christian me ical students have now een banned by their sc ools from short missionary spells abroad such is their fear of students contracting the disease.
The agency ACET wsis set up seven years ago after the publication of the first edition of The Truth About Aida. The latest edition contains over 200 new pages describing the latest scientific findings and outlining a practical Christian response.
Speaking to the Catholic Herald this week, Dr Dixon claimed that many missionary organisations had "failed to appreciate the full gravity of the situation and tend to shill all the light onto
those who live in the countries".
The death toll from AIDS in a country like Rwanda is likely to exceed that caused by ethnic genocide.
Dr Dixon cited a recent case of an English matron who died of an infection contracted whilst a midwife. He also advocated stricter preventive measures for missionaries, including routine testing for HIV on departure and return.
The doctor's views were endorsed by Dr Ted Lancaster, whose organisa tion, Inter Health, specialises in the health needs of missionary volunteers. lie said that missionaries could contract AIDS ina number of ways, including infection and rape.
But he added that, because of missionaries' lifestyles, "the chance of getting HIV and AIDS is lower than that of secular organisations".
The note of caution was also sounded by Dr Mark Evason, who has spent the last six years working in Tanzania, where in certain areas 15 per cent of all inhabitants carry the AIDS virus. He said he had come across no known cases, although missionaries working in the medical field were at risk. Dr Andrew Ferguson, head of the ecumenical Christian Medical Fellowship, said that it was vital that "personnel in missionary societies should be getting appropriate advice and be provided with backup help".
There was no doubt, he added, that there was an "increased risk of missionaries becoming HIV positive and catching AIDS". But he added that it was the churches' role " to get stuck in with people bearing the AIDS virus".