In Africa, where a huge percentage of the health care facilities are provided by faith based organisations, Dr Mirfin Mpundu, executive director of the Ecumenical Pharmaceutical Network (EPN), says that due to their unique position Churches can play a special role in eliminating HIV and AIDS and bringing improvements in the lives of people living with the virus.
Dr. Mpundu shared these views in an interview on 14 November. Dr. Mpundu’s organisation, the Ecumenical Pharmaceutical Network (EPN) based in Kenya, works closely with the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa (EHAIA), a project of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
Calling the Church an “influential institution”, Dr. Mpundu said that “Churches are strategically positioned to tackle the HIV and AIDS pandemic. They can do this by accepting people living with HIV and AIDS in communities, promoting the use of medication and caring for orphans, widows and widowers who have lost family members due to HIV and AIDS”.
Dr. Mpundu has long experience of working in the field of health care, especially in the area of HIV and AIDS. He refers to the “compassionate ministry” as a privilege of Churches. “Church involvement in mitigating HIV and AIDS impact is a mandate given to them by God. Churches can provide support for people living with HIV and can help communities create opportunities for reflection and compassion,” he said.
Speaking of the African region, where HIV has a high prevalence rate, Dr. Mpundu said Churches can bring change at the grassroots level. “The Church being an advocate for high moral principles can bring behavioural changes necessary in dealing with HIV and AIDS. Since Churches command trust and respect from society, they are well positioned to transform behaviours,” Dr. Mpundu said.
“HIV and AIDS is not just a health issue. It has economic, social and spiritual dimensions. The Church has the capability to affectively deal with these dimensions,” he said.
Speaking about Kenya, Dr. Mpundu shared that a number of Churches have developed policies to guide their HIV and AIDS response. They have committed their resources and are supporting people living with the virus. According to the UNAIDS estimates of 2013, the number of people living with HIV in Kenya is 1,600,000.
Christian hospitals are offering treatment and have established homes for children orphaned by HIV. Several Church leaders are involved in anti-stigma messaging, reported Dr. Mpundu. In 2012, he said, faith leaders developed the Kenya National Action plan to guide the HIV response.
Dr. Mpundu shared that the EHAIA supported initiatives have broken taboos by encouraging dialogue on sexuality, gender relations and related violence, issues that are delicate even outside the Churches. The use of contextual Bible studies promoted by the EHAIA has helped in transforming perspectives on issues such as rape and gender-based violence.
According to Dr. Mpundu, EHAIA has brought in sensitivity in response to HIV. The approach in EHAIA’s work does not perceive men merely as “perpetrators” but helps to create safe spaces for men to discuss their role models, relationships with their fathers and interaction with women.
Dr. Mpundu said the Churches and faith based organisations need to strengthen their work in order to diminish HIV and AIDS related stigma. This stigma, he said, continues to be an obstacle in the effective work for HIV prevention and care in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Also the “false theology” which promotes the idea of people living with HIV and AIDS healed by God without treatment needs to be addressed by Churches, he said. Churches and other faith based organizations must be more proactive in providing HIV education and awareness, while contributing to the care of the AIDS-affected, Dr. Mpundu concluded.
Source: World Council of Churches