Churches gather to coordinate action plan against HIV/AIDS-TANZANIA
DAR ES SALAAM, 5 September (PLUSNEWS) - A coalition of Finnish and African
churches has been meeting in Dar es Salaam over the past week to try and
pool resources and create a strategy in the battle against HIV/AIDS.
The network, known as Churches United in the Struggle against HIV/AIDS in
Southern and Eastern Africa (CUAHA), was established last year and is now
drawing up plans for practical ways of curbing the spread of HIV/AIDS and
caring for those living with the HI virus.
"This is a pandemic that everyone has to fight together, and a successful
struggle is one that breaks the barriers between the views of the churches,"
CUAHA chairwoman Birgitta Rantakari told journalists on Thursday.
"It is important we overcome our differences and help all the 'people of the
church'," she said, highlighting the fact that Lutheran, Pentecostal,
Catholic and Orthodox churches were all part of the network.
The initiative, which is largely funded by the Finish Ministry for Foreign
Affairs, has concentrated on five focal areas CUAHA believes can benefit
from the network's resources, experience and contacts. These are the
theology and ethics of HIV/AIDS; the caring ministry; education and
training; information and communication; and networking.
Its members acknowledged that there was a need to overcome the churches'
initial reluctance to tackle HIV/AIDS.
"When we learned about HIV/AIDS, it is true that churches were shocked into
silence and confusion," Dr Rev Veikko Munyika, CUAH vice-chairman and
General Secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN),
said. "But we came to realise that we cannot stand aloof while our people
were dying, so we decided to get involved and unite versus a common enemy."
Munyika said the network had been developing materials on ethical and
theological issues, sharing the latest training methods and information, and
ways of supporting not only HIV-positive people, but also their care-givers.
Regarding the controversy over whether churches should be seen to advocate
the use of condoms, CUAHA said theologians were still discussing the issue,
but Munyika revealed that the organisation had declared they "were not going
to stand in the way of anyone or anything that will combat the disease".
"Condoms are not the only method that is suitable, and if we make it the
single answer, we could find ourselves in trouble," he said. "But when
people are dying like flies, as a theologian, you will be forced to choose
between the lesser of two evils."
CUAHA is targeting HIV/AIDS workers in Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya,
Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and
Among the delegates was Rev Gideon Byanugisha, a representative of World
Vision International and the first priest to declare his HIV-positive
status. He urged other religious leaders to do the same and be tested so
that they could lead by example.
"The church, I think, has a very important role to play, especially in
breaking the silence that surrounds HIV/AIDS; in breaking the stigma, denial
and discrimination; and in fighting through action," he said.
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