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Religion at the forefront in fight against HIVPublish Date: Dec 11, 2013
Religion at the forefront in fight against HIV
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Faith helps many people with HIV get through life
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By Penlope Nankunda & Esther Namirimu

Many people count on their faith to carry them through difficult times. In Uganda, religious institutions have been at the forefront of helping people cope with the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

THE ANGLICAN CHURCH

The late Bishop Misaeri Kauma was the first chairmperson of Uganda AIDS Commission. According to an article by Rev. Canon James Selugo of Ndejje University in 2010, Kauma’s heart for suffering people persuaded President Yoweri Museveni in 1995, to make him a government commissioner in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

He prayed for the sick and warned young people that if they were foolish enough to indulge in fornication, they should not be too foolish to use condoms to prevent HIV infections.

Kauma also encouraged the Church to accept people living with HIV/AIDS. He walked with Philip Lutaaya, the musician who was the first to openly declare his HIV status in Uganda. He also supported Rev. Canon Gideon Byamugisha, a clergyman who has done commendable service in the prevention of HIV/AIDS worldwide.

The Anglican Church also implemented an AIDS prevention programme in several districts. The Clergy and laity were trained in AIDS prevention using a peer education approach. AIDS education messages were delivered from the pulpit in sermons, as well as at funerals, weddings and other occasions.

At All Saints Cathedral, the Faith In God’s Healing Touch (FIGHT) fellowship was formed about four years ago to bring together people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS.

“At first, we were just a few members, but the number has grown as more people embrace the fellowship. The church leaders have been very supportive,” Anne Katuregye, a founder member and the first chairperson of FIGHT fellowship, says.

According to Rev. Diana Nkesiga, the Cathedral acting Provost, the fellowship was formed to fight stigma, fear and the disease, among other things. The members also support each other by sharing nutrition tips and new trends in treatment.

“Instead of focusing on individual struggles, members are encouraged to use the time when they are well and healthy to serve the Lord,” Rev. Nkesiga says.

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

From the beginning, the Catholic Church decided to take the fight on. According to an online article, Uganda’s HIV prevention success, jointly written by Edward Green, Daniel Halperin, Vinand Nantulya and Janice Hogle, Catholic mission hospitals designed AIDS mobile home care projects and special programmes for AIDS widows and orphans.

Peter Paul Opata, the HIV focal person at the Catholic secretariat in Nsambya, says apart from the extensive programmes that deal with orphans and vulnerable children’s support, they also help with treatment.

“Under the AIDS Care and Treatment Programme, we run 19 hospitals across the country with funding from the Centre for Disease Control. We also have an additional six hospitals which run with funding from USAID,” Opata says.

“We look out for infected mothers and offer care and support. We also have programmes targeting nutrition for the sick as well as engaging the communities in support efforts.”

Many people count on their faith to carry them through difficult times. In Uganda, religious institutions have been at the forefront of helping people cope with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Penlope Nankunda and Esther Namirimu write
Religion at the forefront of the fight against HIV.

UGANDA ORTHODOX CHURCH

Father Nicholas Bayego of Uganda Orthodox Church says they encourage abstinence for the unmarried people and also advise married people to be faithful to one partner.

“Before wedding a couple, we encourage them to take an HIV/AIDS test, but it is not compulsory. At our hospitals, we have set aside clinics to help HIV/AIDS patients with counselling and financial support. We have an office, the Uganda Orthodox Church Care for HIV/AIDS Team, which particularly fights against the disease.

“We have clinics in different areas of the country, such as Gulu, Mityana and Fort Portal. Apart from offering emotional support through counselling, we also give financial support and help orphans.”

SEVENTH DAY ADVENTIST CHURCH (SDA)

The social and health services officer for central region in the SDA Church, Fred Kazooba, says the Church is actively fighting HIV/AIDS, especially among the youth, through awareness.

In 2006, the SDA Church sponsored a youth conference against HIV/AIDS. It was held at Bugema SDA Secondary School. It included youth representatives from Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Burundi.

“We also encourage abstinence and circumcision, but we do not encourage the use of condoms,” Kazooba says. For married couples, the church encourages faithfulness. During sermons, church leaders encourage people to test and know their HIV status and also fight stigma.

There is counselling for those who have HIV and there is a plan for a programme to provide ARVs to patients.
Kazooba adds:

“Our mission is to promote the Ministry of Health. We are establishing HIV and AIDS education, prevention, care and support programmes. And we facilitate spiritual counselling and guidance to the rehabilitation centres by providing leadership and training skills.”

MUSLIMS

Hajji Nsereko Mutumba says the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council (UMSC) is actively engaged in the fight against HIV/AIDS through their focal office, which now operates countrywide, thanks to support from Inter Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU).

“We encourage Muslims to abstain, test for HIV/AIDS before marriage and avoid promiscuity after they are married. We provide counselling and treatment to those who have been infected,” he says.

Mutumba says in April 2013, during a workshop on HIV/AIDS organised by the UMSC HIV/AIDS focal office funded by IRCU, the national chairperson of UMSC, Dr. Abdulkadir Idi Balonde, urged Muslim leaders at all levels to prioritise HIV/AIDS prevention messages.

Balonde advised the Muslim leaders to use marriage ceremonies, congregational prayers and other Islamic ceremonies to pass on key information about HIV/AIDS.

In the same workshop, the regional Kadhi for UMSC eastern region, Sheikh Isa Ahmad Masaba, called upon his fellow district Kadhis to intensify the campaigns against HIV/AIDS and partner with other stakeholders such as TASO and the AIDS Information Centre (AIC).

In 2010, the UMSC launched a sh99m HIV/AIDS prevention project in Kasese district. The four-year project was funded by USAID through IRCU and targets HIV prevention among the Muslim community.

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