Govt targets churches in HIV interventions

HARARE - Religious beliefs are preventing many HIV positive patients from accessing anti-retroviral treatment, a Health ministry official has said.

Angela Mushavi, ministry of Health and Child Care national Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) coordinator said they had already began engaging churches over the issue.

“We may not know the numbers but we do know that there are people who have not accessed ART because of their religious beliefs,” Mushavi said.

“We need to engage religious leaders so that they engage their followers over this. That is the best way to go.

“In much the same way as we engage traditional leaders, we need to be engaging religious leaders and they can speak a message to their population. We have already started giving health education talks in churches now. In fact, a lot of churches now are interested in discussions around HIV.”

Official data shows that about 80 percent of Zimbabwe’s 13 million people are Christians.

Zimbabwe currently has at least 1, 2 million people living positively with HIV.

Half of them are on treatment and the figure is expected to rise to 1,2 million following the introduction of the new World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines which require that people be initiated on treatment at a CD4 count of 500.

Mushavi said many religious people were ignorant of the disease, with the church ultimately providing a rich ground for discrimination.

“With regards to stigma in the church, people believe that because you are a church-goer, it necessarily means that you are holier than thou and HIV is not even an issue to discuss,” she said.

“But is that true? Are churches full of people who are HIV negative? People who are straight and narrow?

“That is not true from all of our experiences. People can convert but they have a past. In some instances whether you are in the church or not, you do not know what your partner is doing so we are all at risk.”

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