work doing more harm than good, says African church leader
By staff writers
16 Aug 2006
In focussing participation in the sixteenth international AIDS
conference in Toronto, Canada, faith leaders chose the title
ëThe challenge to deliverí for a discussion on the role of the
churches and related bodies in the global response to the HIV
Presenters included the Rev J.P. Heath of ANERELA+ (African
Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Affected by HIV),
who spoke out forcefully on the need for the churches to engage
far more honestly with the realities of HIV/AIDS.
ìAs faith-based organisations we have been involved in HIV
prevention, but we have been doing more harm than good,î said
He explained: ìWe have offered care - made promises to look
after orphans and [to] help with funeral fees. We must [now]
stop helping people to die and start helping them to live. We
must mobilise faith leaders to say that we can live with HIV.î
There was recognition among the religious leaders that one of
their biggest challenges comes from those who use the language
of faith or the doctrine of the church to preach that HIV is a
punishment from God and that the use of condoms is a sin.
The head of the Lutheran World Federation, Bishop Mark Warner,
said the church had to understand that the prohibition on the
use of condoms was exacerbating the disease rather than
preventing it. Abstinence as the only form of prevention was not
viable when discussing HIV prevention, he said.
ìChurches must realise that the use of condoms in fighting HIV
is not contrary to our moral teaching,î said Bishop Warner.
All agreed that to find common ground on this issue in the
church was one of their greatest challenges, according to a
report from UK-based international relief and development agency
Christian Aid ñ who have been consciously seeking to change the
grounds of the debate among their own church supporters.
The US congresswoman who is seeking to overturn its
abstinence-only clauses in the US governmentís PEPFAR
(President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) fund said that the
future of women and girls was more important than ideology.
Barb Lee also quoted her governmentís own auditing body, which
had criticised the abstinence clauses as distorting prevention
There is a general consensus among health prevention workers and
policy analysts that abstinence is often not an option for poor
women and girls who do not have the ability to demand the use of
a condom from their partners.
Statistics and on-the-ground experience also shows that in
sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the majority of HIV-positive
women and young girls are infected within marriage.
The Rev J.P. Heath said that donor agencies, and especially
faith-based ones, must listen to those on the ground who
understand what is needed in their communities. He also called
for more funds to fight stigma and discrimination.
ìPEPFAR is not serving our communities well,î he said. ìIt must
move away from imposing policies and rely instead on policies
proven on the ground. Let the people decide what is best for
The ANERELA+ alternative model to PEPFAR and the approach of
those Catholic and evangelical agencies who oppose condom-use is
called SAFE. It stands for: Safer practices; Available
medications; Voluntary counselling and testing (VCT); and
Christians have much to learn from other faiths about overcoming
stigmatisation of people living with HIV, the faith leaders
meeting was also told.
"Buddhists are amazing because they are so humble. They are an
example of a non-judgmental religion," said Dr Manoj Kurian, who
coordinates work on HIV and AIDS for the Geneva-based World
Council of Churches. "They accept people as they are."