Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 16, 2005
Faith seen as instrument of change in Africa's war on AIDS
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Abstain. Be faithful in a committed relationship. If all else fails use a condom. That's the ABC approach that Uganda and other African countries are using to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Uganda has substantially reduced the rate of HIV infection. The Rev. Sammy Gumbe, secretary general of the HIV/AIDS Christian Network, adds a D for Disease-control and Disclosure, so that those infected will reveal their status.
Gumbe, who is based in Mozambique, was among several speakers flown into Canada for a May 2-3 conference on AIDS in Africa sponsored by Health Partners International of Canada (HPIC), a group which provides free medical supplies to the developing world.
The HIV/AIDS Christian Network includes Roman Catholic churches and is active in the five Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa, as well as Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
Gumbe, however, criticized throwing out condoms without a message. He said young people in Africa "want the truth."
An ordained Baptist and Pentecostal minister, Gumbe works with 2,500 pastors to train them in combating AIDS.
"ABC is critical. We have to begin from infants," he said.
Asked about the criticism the Catholic Church gets for its stance on condoms, Gumbe said he understands why the Church does not preach condoms. That is not the Church's role.
The Church must emphasize change in behaviour, and give women and children a voice, because social inequalities contribute to HIV infection, he said. His organization does not expect churches to hand out condoms, but to leave it to nurses and doctors in a separate setting.
He pointed to the network's declaration which says, "We recognize that we can easily fail to follow God's plan and suffer the consequences of our acts. We will therefore, where necessary, promote other preventive measures that reduce the risk of infection and preserve God-given life where it is threatened."
He says it's important to educate people about consequences of their behaviour. He refers adults to where they can get information they need about condoms, without sending a message promiscuity is okay.
Ndungu Kahihu, HIV/AIDS advisor to Save the Children, described AIDS as "one of the biggest disasters we have faced. But we will survive it."
He pointed out that because AIDS is regarded as a man-made disaster, it has generated little sympathy because those who have it are often seen as immoral.
He said the Church was too busy debating the morality of using condoms, without seeing the secondary impact of the disaster: the 12 million orphaned children and the impact of losing a whole generation of adults at their most productive ages, leaving behind the old and the very young.
Jim Cantelon, president of Visionledd International Media and Missions, an outreach of Crossroads Christian Communications based in Burlington, Ont., agrees that churches have often taken a strident, moralizing view.
He pointed out that he often spoke at African churches whose pastors behaved as if the pandemic was a "secular problem" not affecting them. Yet he would look out at the congregation and see many with the disease.
"If we are not a friend to the fatherless and a defender of widows, we are not fulfilling our mandate," he said.
Cantelon warned the AIDS pandemic will hit North America. "It's only a matter of time for us."
He predicted that by 2050 one billion people worldwide will be HIV-infected.
"You'll either be infected or affected," he said, repeating a mantra used to describe the plight of sub-Saharan Africans today. "It will be the defining issue of the 21st century.
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