Medicine and Spirituality: The role of love in the therapeutic process of HIV/AIDS sufferers in an African village

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Andrew Lightbown
Nicholas Fane


Drawing on research with HIV patients in the small rural Ugandan village of Kabubbu, this article explores the role that love plays in the overall therapeutic process of HIV sufferers, as they move from death’s door to increased well-being. Since 1999 a Christian charity and its donors have supported Kabubbu. Quicken Trust acts as an intermediary between individual donors and recipients. The latter are identified by a locally managed N.G.O., the Kabubbu Development Project, with whom Quicken Trust has established a range of initiatives, one of which is an HIV centre. This article examines how loving relationships, expressed in different forms, are vital within the overall therapeutic process.  We explore the role of love (agape) in these relationships, from the perspective of counsellors and most importantly sufferers, and theorise about the motives of charitable donors.  We show how HIV sufferers truly “walk through the valley of the shadow of death’’ and how, despite living with a death sentence as it were, sufferers find that life can take on a new meaning, including reassessing their attitudes towards dependants, community, death and the unknown. Increased well-being is, we argue, a manifestation of two distinct forms of love: in our terms, ‘’sympathetic or economic agape’’, and ‘’empathetic or vocational agape.’’ This article explores the vital, yet complementary, differences between these two forms of love.

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