Influence of the Church in Bringing About
African 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
These words were spoken recently by Bishop Dr
Zephania Kameeta of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of
The call was directed at more than 880,000 members
of the Lutheran Church, who make up almost 50 percent of the country's
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
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
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
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
"Sexuality is still a taboo as a topic," points
out Rev. Hosea Iyambo, Coordinator of the ELCIN's AIDS Action for the
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 networks.
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 about transformation."
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
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
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."