Globe and Mail Examines How African Religious Leaders Seek To Raise HIV/AIDS Awareness, Combat Stigma
Toronto's Globe and Mail on Friday examined how some leaders of religious organizations in Africa, which "form the core of civil society and are a key provider of social services," are aiming to combat the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS. Religious groups in Africa "often use their enormous influence to contribute, both inadvertently and deliberately, to the shame and fear associated with AIDS," according to the Globe and Mail. The Catholic Church forbids the use of condoms -- even to prevent the spread of HIV between spouses -- and many churches, mosques and temples in Africa "condemn people with HIV as sinners who got the punishment they deserved," the Globe and Mail reports. However, some HIV-positive religious leaders -- such as Gideon Byamugisha, a clergy member in the Anglican Church in Uganda who is believed to be the first openly HIV-positive religious leader in Africa -- are breaking the silence around HIV/AIDS. Byamugisha says when he learned he was HIV-positive in 1992, he did not want to "live a double life," so he began to speak publicly about his HIV-status. "It was very risky," he said, adding, "It's still risky. There are still people who are uneasy about my message." But Byamugisha says that each time he spoke about the disease, he felt he was helping to diminish the shame associated with it. Byamugisha in 2002 co-founded the African Network of Religious Leaders Living With HIV/AIDS, which now has 1,370 members in 11 countries and includes "not just Christians, but also Muslims, Hindus and Baha'i," the Globe and Mail reports. Byamugisha, who does HIV/AIDS advocacy work and continues to speak publicly about the disease, said religious leaders now fall into two groups, those who are "using their congregations to control AIDS" and those who are "using AIDS to control their congregations" (Nolen, Globe and Mail, 6/23).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.