Rwandan Religious Leaders Receive HIV Tests To Help Fight Stigma Associated With Virus
Fifty religious leaders from across Rwanda gathered last weekend in the city of Nyandungu to publicly receive HIV tests in an effort to fight the stigma associated with the virus, Rwanda's New Times reports. According to the Times, the one-day event sought to highlight the role of faith leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS and develop strategies to reduce HIV/AIDS-related stigma.
Agnes Binagwaho, executive secretary of Rwanda's National AIDS Control Commission, said that 90% of the country's religious leaders attended the meeting. She applauded the leaders for their efforts, saying their participation in HIV/AIDS advocacy is essential because of the impact they have on the general population.
Andrew Butare, the country representative of Christian Aid, said the testing event was a sign of leading by example. "If found positive, treatment will be guaranteed, and they will be advised how to handle themselves in the society, as well as spread the campaign of living positively," he said. The Rev. Canon Gideon Byamugisha, who also serves as the regional ambassador for Christian Aid, said that he has been HIV-positive since 1992 and added that he would not have survived had it not been for the support of the church.
Binagwaho called on the faith leaders to further their outreach efforts aimed at fighting HIV/AIDS. "Since statistics show that 15% of the sick are children below 18 years, and these are the leaders of tomorrow, religious leaders should fight the stigma and talk to the youths about sexuality in their own words," she said. The leaders with the support of Christian Aid and CNLS plan to find approaches to fight the spread of HIV, as well as provide care and treatment for people living with the virus and their families, the Times reports. Leaders also have plans to strengthen advocacy for the legal rights of people affected by the disease, the Times reports (Mukaaya/Butera, New Times, 3/18).