No main session has been given to the role of the church or faith based organization in Barcelona 2002, says Dr Lucy Steinitz of the Catholic AIDS Association in Namibia. She was speaking during a press conference and launch of the 10-chapter book, Journeys of Faith , co authored by her and three others, Gleen Williams, Canon Gideon Byamugisha and Phumzile Zondi.
Journeys of Faith examines church-based responses to HIV and AIDS in three southern African countries. In Africa, about 80% of the population trusts the church and turn to its leaders in times of crisis. Thus the church organisations are concerned with putting a human face in the AIDS issue since they provide the guidance for moral virtues, said Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane.
This could be done using the participatory approach with the church and Government as partners. Such partnerships, Steinitz says, have helped young people delay sexual activities in some southern African countries.
However the church has to tackle misconceptions which Rev Byamugisha admits has not helped in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Such misconceptions include the belief that when one has faith in Jesus, one will not have HIV.
Byamugisha himself tested positive in 1992. “I have Jesus, but I have AIDS,” he said. He added that the church needed to focus on young girls in order to have a future without AIDS. Also, he said, the church should focus on children so they can have a future. “They must be informed about responsible living.”
In achieving its aims of fighting HIV and AIDS, the church has challenges. According to Byamugisha, “the church is still guilty of stigma and stigma brings fear. “The church leaders should not be judgmental, but should apply the three letters TLC – Tender Loving Care – in dealing with people with AIDS.”
Speaking on the issue of giving false hope, which many of the leaders are doing, by telling their members who are living with AIDS that God will cure them now, Byamugisha says, “the clergy who put out instant cure now to all cases of HIV infection are ignorant. “These have just the Bible as text book, they need to be educated.
Thailand must succeed where Barcelona is seen to have failed. This will be ensured by making faith-based organizations a major issue in HIV and AIDS matters . The time to plan is now.
AIDS 2002 Conference News produced by Health & Development Networks/Key Correspondent Team