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Ssempa misses the forest for the trees

By Vision Reporter

Added 1st March 2006 03:00 AM

SIR – Over the last few months we have all been inundated with rants from Pastor Martin Sempa about marriage, fidelity and condom use.

SIR – Over the last few months we have all been inundated with rants from Pastor Martin Sempa about marriage, fidelity and condom use.

SIR – Over the last few months we have all been inundated with rants from Pastor Martin Sempa about marriage, fidelity and condom use.

He also seems to have targeted specific individuals, including Beatrice Were at ActionAid International Uganda, casting them as rabid supporters of the dissolution of the institution of marriage in his morality play.

Let us add our voices to the issues he raised in his last missive. First, according to the Uganda Aids Commission, the fastest rate of HIV infection is occurring among married couples. So yes, preach fidelity, but while doing so, how do women and men protect themselves in the meantime?

Clearly, it should be through a process in which their right to bodily integrity and sexual and reproductive rights are upheld. This would imply condom use – where it is a process of negotiation between men and women, or a process where each party, man or woman, can make a choice, hence inclusion of microbicides as an option for women.

The fact that 65% of the commercial sex workers in Uganda have HIV does not make it less important to discuss HIV prevalence even among groups that have traditionally been thought to be “safe”. Nor does it mean that one is against marriage when pointing out that there have been many women infected while in “safe marriages”.

For both these groups, condoms are a real alternative for safe sex. If the good pastor reads anything other than what he has written or that which affirms his views, he will know that in the famous book And the Band Played On, according to Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta, Patient Zero, one man, was a catalyst for the spread of the disease across North America.

The disease eventually spread to all manner of communities including hemophiliacs, patients in hospital, married people – notably Elizabeth Glaser, etc. Thus, in talking prevention, the fight has to be located at all sites of risk – married, single, sex worker or fishing community, in other words humanity.

To suggest we can ring fence our strategy among those who meet our moral standards is to fall into the trap that many have fallen victim to – the infidelity of their partners, lovers and friends – and leave ourselves vulnerable because our human judgment has proven faulty.

A necessary part of that fight is to recognise HIV/AIDS for what it is – a public health issue – rather than a curse from God to only be addressed through a fundamentalist crusade.

This is where fighting stigma is relevant. One cannot address public health issues solely by appealing to people’s morals. You state, pastor, that “Make sure there is no infection in the fluids and keep it that way.

For those who are already infected, what do you suggest? Can we assume that as a man of God you care about them as well? So yes, “put more effort into fidelity”; do your part as a pastor to ensure that whatever your followers do does not place them at risk and uphold the institution of marriage.

However, do not miss the forest for the trees; there are many who do not, will not or cannot maintain fidelity – we care about them too! We thank God that the Uganda government position remains a tripartite strategy – ABC.

And we will continue to behave in a way we know is right – addressing the public health and women’s rights issues and fighting stigma and discrimination, which still clearly have many of us, even where one would expect otherwise, mired in a moralistic and judgmental debate rather than campaigning for every practical means of preventing the spread of this terrible disease.

Amanda Sserumaga
Country Director
ActionAid International Uganda

Ssempa misses the forest for the trees

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