Angola: How Christianity has helped to Resolve the HIV/AIDS epidemic

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The rate of prevalence of the deadly AIDS disease in Angola is very high. It is no secret that religious groups seem to view the issue of HIV negatively.  There are several factors that brought this dilemma. First, AIDS is a very controversial illness considering, more often than not, it is caused by sexual relations.  Religious leaders voiced judgmental comments on AIDS, perhaps as a way of discouraging others from committing the same mistakes. Unfortunately, it also drives the very people it intended to help away.  

Church leaders were wary about HIV/AIDS issues for some time. They also preached the biblical teachings that elicited feelings of stigmatization of people living with HIV /AIDS.

Another reason is that the use of condoms is encouraged by anti-AIDS or AIDS/HIV secular prevention movements.  Christianity frowns on the idea of using condoms. They do not support the need for condoms since they prefer to promote abstinence and faithfulness rather than prevention through safe sex.

Christianity is also reluctant to tackle issues and formulate policies with regards to current and pressing concerns such as drug use and commercial sex.  Both, by the way, have direct influence on AIDS prevention.  Christianity is wary of supporting laws or policies that seem to compromise moral values.  Consequently, people afflicted with HIV find themselves shun by religious people and society in general.  

This scenario may not be true at all times but it took fifteen (15) years for the role of religion to be affirmed in Africa.  Christianity took an active role in promoting community based care and prevention and helps in the process of stigma reduction.

Introducing necessary changes in curbing or preventing AIDS spread is not easily attained.  For instance, drug use and sex behaviors are long-term processes requiring programs and methods.  This is where capacity for personal faith is of most use.  Faith-based inspirational allows powerful internal response from the person.  This is an aspect that is seldom tapped but holds great promise for AIDS resolution.

Politics, social status, environment, gender and power struggles are all important motivators.  Personal faith, however, provides a much greater impact than all the other factors. Fostering family and community spiritual relationships are important in achieving results in the fight against AIDS.

Perspectives began to change when Christian church leaders took time to be with people inflicted with HIV.  Exposure visits which occurred prior to the consultation of church leaders in Botswana in September 1999 were instrumental in bringing about this postive change. During exposure visits, church leaders were given the chance to meet families with AIDS/HIV in their homes.  Discussions regarding their predicament were the turning point in gaining the much-needed sympathy from them.

Leaders of Christian faith saw the pain through the witnesses’ eyes, brought out compassion in them and spurred them to action.  The consultation in Botswana paved the way for the active involvement of Christian community.

The ‘wholistic’ approach of Christianity is a part of life of the early church and is deemed the most effective way in addressing problems, health or otherwise.

Factors Contributing to AIDS/HIV in Angola

*  Poverty due to unemployment, lack of education and skills, poor government system, laziness among the youth and other factors. Poverty puts people in grave risk of contracting HIV/AIDS because of the poor state of sanitation and the general weakening of the body’s immune system due to lack of food and other basic necessities.

* Civil war in Angola which bombed hospitals and clinics, also transport facilities.

*  Lack of proper management among the political and church institutions on addressing the spread of HIV/AIDS.

* Lack of leaders has led to misuse of public funds which affected budget and financial programs for HIV/AIDS

* Cultural and traditional practices which still prevail in Angola such as wife inheritance, sexual cleansing, circumcision, and sex rites, further exposing people to HIV/AIDS  

* Lack of training for Christian groups helping in AIDS matters.

* Gender imbalance brought about by marginalization of women has excluded women in important AIDS/HIV prevention processes

* Youth and children do not have voice in the community.  Responsible parenting is also a problem that could lead to HIV.

Christian Response

Christian church provides an interesting facet in addressing the HIV/AIDS problem in Angola.  Being largely faith-based some important variations in the approach of disease prevention have been introduced. For instance, the efforts of Christian community enable people to seriously consider other options in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS such as abstinence and faithfulness.  The use of condom though is still subject to debate and is one aspect where secular preventive measures do not jibe with Christian methods.

The secular community also recognizes the unique position Christian groups have carved for themselves.  Christian groups have been very effective in reaching out to communities to spread methods of prevention, treatment, extending care and assistance.  The Christian efforts are subject to limitations though since their access to information, training and financial support is not as extensive as that of the larger NGOs.

The one great advantage Christian churches have over their secular counterparts are their ability to give long-term commitment through their medical facilities and community churches, volunteers, the knack for maximizing the use of resources, multi-national support and networking.

Christian Solutions to HIV/AIDS in Angola

In order to address HIV/AIDS in Angola, churches include training of clergy and missionaries in the curricula.

* The Africa Regional Forum of Religious Health Organizations in Reproductive Health is a partnership of religious health networks composed of Christian and Islamic.  The Forum, facilitated by International Family Health was launched at the International Conference on AIDS and STDs in Africa, September 1999.

* The UK NGO AIDS Consortium sponsors meetings on responses to HIV/AIDS by church groups.

* The draft declaration of UNGASS (April 2001) recognize the need of aid from faith based organizations

Other Christian Activities to Curb HIV/AIDS:

* Promoting change in sexual behavior so that the transmission of the virus is reduced

*  Enhancing healthy relationships between young men and young women

* Aiding in emotional, social, psychological, and spiritual needs of AIDS victims also others concerned

* De-stigmatization of HIV/AIDS through promoting acceptance

*  Promoting willingness to discuss HIV/AIDS by individuals affected

* Stressing the difference between care from cure

* More cooperation between churches, healthcare and other institutions in addressing the needs of the community even beyond the HIV/AIDS crisis

* Compassion and extending assistance to those suffering from AIDS

* Promoting openness to the gospel of Christ through love, compassion, and truth

Addressing the AIDS/HIV Stigma

Care

Christian care for AIDS/HIV victims in Angola is beyond extending medical aid alone. Care refers to the support extended to AIDS/HIV patients such as paying them. Care is synonymous with love and coursed through actions.  Support includes the family, neighbors and community.  This act of care goes beyond providing physical treatment to the patient alone as it also addresses the emotional, mental and spiritual needs of the person.  

Change

Christians also strive to implement change in addressing the Angola AIDS/HIV problems.  Through the care they provided, they expect change to occur.  The kind of change they are after is propagating awareness of HIV and helping the people accept and cope with reality.  Consequently, this will lead to changes in attitudes and views among the people.  The care they provided is intended to initiate and maintain this change they aspire for.  Isolating persons with the disease will not make them change. Change is more apparent when care is applied to relationship between the patient and the community.

Link between care and change

Care and change is mostly noticeable in the relational aspect. Care witnessed in the household and community is a very effective motivation that can generate change. This can quickly turn around the situation which is characterized by stigma to acceptance and shared responsibility. The care to change association is also known as ‘care/prevention’ linkage.  It is an important strategy in expanding involvement of local community and organizations to HIV/AIDS.

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