Influence of the Church in Bringing
Church Information Service
March 24, 2003
Posted to the web March 25, 2003
Erika Von Wietersheim
Statistics of HIV/AIDS prevalence in
Namibia are not impressive. The figures are worrying. However,
a holistic approach to fighting the pandemic may reverse the
trend, if the ongoing efforts are maintained or intensified.
Led by the Lutheran Church in the country, religious
organisations have assumed a major role in this endeavour,
reports Erika von Wietersheim.
"I am urging every Lutheran
congregation in Namibia to form its own HIV/AIDS committee
during the year 2003. This is the only way we can implement
our programme to combat the AIDS pandemic."
These words were spoken recently by
Bishop Dr Zephania Kameeta of the Evangelical Lutheran Church
in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN).
The call was directed at more than
880,000 members of the Lutheran Church, who make up almost 50
percent of the country's population.
With an HIV prevalence rate of 22.3
percent among its population, and with over 80,000 orphaned
children, Namibia is one of the countries in southern Africa
greatly affected by the AIDS pandemic, alongside Botswana,
Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
In some regions, one out of three
pregnant women is HIV-positive.
Average life expectancy in the country
may fall from 61 to 40 years by 2005 because of HIV/AIDS.
"Ignorance, stigmatisation and
discrimination have long characterised the attitude of both
church and government toward HIV-positive persons and AIDS
patients," says Rev Angela Veii, Co-ordinator of Lutheran
Unity in Namibia.
Efforts are nevertheless being made to
remedy the situation. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in
Namibia (ELCIN) has been running an AIDS Action Programme
since December 2000.
Its counterpart, Evangelical Lutheran
Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN) followed suit in
July 2001 with Evangelical Lutheran Church AIDS Programme (ELCAP)
in July 2001.
The current emphasis of these programmes
is training in home-based care. About 130 laypersons have
completed the basic training course.
"Only by recruiting laypersons and
volunteers can the programme be sustainable and remain
independent of outside help," says Veii, who also
co-ordinates AIDS programmes of Lutheran churches in Namibia.
A major goal of the programmes this year
is to build a network of village AIDS committees, among the
165 congregations in the country.
Using a holistic approach, the AIDS
groups will work in three areas, namely, home-based care,
youth education, and practical and spiritual care for the
increasing number of orphaned children.
Veii observes: "HIV/AIDS work only
makes sense when you tackle the problem from all sides. It is
only in this way that congregations can become effective as
'healing communities' at the local level - even if we have to
do it without money and medicines."
The holistic approach is also important
because HIV/AIDS education has to go together with developing
new morals about sexual relationships.
"Sexuality is still a taboo as a
topic," points out Rev. Hosea Iyambo, Coordinator of the
ELCIN's AIDS Action for the Western Diocese.
He explains that women are still in an
inferior position in families.
They are often exposed to domestic
violence from their husbands, who refuse to use effective
methods of prevention.
According to him, providing active care
for AIDS patients and orphans requires creation of new social
Veii agrees, stressing, "Programmes
which work directly, holistically and locally to combat the
AIDS pandemic through personal involvement with AIDS patients
and the healing influence of the church community, can bring
A significant factor in the success of
AIDS work is ecumenical co-operation. Lutheran churches in
Namibia are founding members of Church Alliance for Orphans (CAFO),
launched in November 2002.
CAFO unites 11 church organisations in
promoting practical care and trauma healing for orphaned
children. "We would like to create a society in Namibia
in which orphans too, feel lifted up and supported," said
Rev. Dr Henry Platt, at the launching ceremony. He is the
National Co-ordinator of CAFO.
He said since the traditional African
extended family could no longer accommodate all the orphans in
its social welfare network, there were increasing numbers of
children living alone, caring for younger siblings, hungry,
and unable to attend school.
The difficulties in combating HIV/AIDS
are immense. Despite generous material support from the United
Evangelical Mission and the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran
Mission, there are not enough funds or trained personnel.
There is also no adequate administrative infrastructure.
In rural areas, there is still great
lack of awareness about the dangers of infection, since there
are neither televisions nor newspapers to use in education
campaigns. People rely only on the radio.
However, not all is bad. The Minister
for Health and Social Welfare, Dr Libertine Amathila, speaking
last December after releasing 2002 AIDS report for Namibia,
pointed out some regions where the rate of new infections had
stabilised or even decreased.
Six of the larger towns in Namibia
reported decreases by 3 to 4 percent for the last 12 months.
This shows, she noted, "our work is bearing fruit."
She said this had been made possible by
combined education campaigns carried out in towns by the
government and civil society groups in the past few years.
Along with schools, the minister
considered churches the most important actors in the civil
society. To this, Veii adds: "In Africa, participation of
churches and religious leaders strengthens credibility and
success of government campaigns."
She continues: "More than 90
percent of Namibians are church members.
Even in the most remote parts of the
country, you can find a church and worship services. So we
take our work seriously and work together at all levels."