‘CUAHA has recognized insufficiencies on the ABC approach and advocates for a safe model’, Bishop Johannes Ramashapa, Executive Director of the Lutheran Communion of Southern African and chairperson of Churches United Against HIV and AIDS in eastern and southern Africa (CUAHA), told delegates at the meeting.
The ABC strategy of HIV prevention is an approach used to internationally to encourage people to abstain from sex, to be faithful to one partner and to use condoms correctly and consistently in order to reduce their risk of HIV prevention.
Explaining the deficiencies of the current prevention strategy, Dr Chabu Kangale, the Executive Director of INERELA, the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with HIV and AIDS, said there needs to be a shift from the obvious focus on condom use as many women are still not able to get their partners to use them or are victims of sexual abuse.
‘The ABC has limitations because we assume that when a person abstains they will have no other environments in which they can get HIV. But we also know that gender-based violence infects people who have been abstaining for a long time. So, in the safe model we are saying we need empowerment. We need to empower men not to rape women. We need to empower women not to be vulnerable and to be able to encourage prevention and that’s why we are saying the debate should not just be about the condom. The debate should be about having a comprehensive approach of prevention, of which the condom is one of the many efforts we can do as a community’, Kangale said.
‘Let’s not stop on ABC. While those things are good (we should abstain when we can, we should be faithful all the time, we should use condoms all the time) they are not in themselves complete to prevent HIV. We need to empower ourselves with knowledge, to empower ourselves to access treatment’, he added.
As a movement, CUAHA, with a membership of 40 denominations in 13 African countries, does not dispute that condom use has a role in preventing HIV transmission. However, some of its members do not agree. The Catholic Church, for example, has taken a firm stand not to support condom use.
‘The condom has a place in prevention because we are advocating for all safer practices that will stop the HIV infection between individuals. And, therefore, we would encourage the Catholic Church to be open to that discussion’, said Kangale.
One of the delegates, Ugandan Reverend Canon Gideon Byamugisha, the first African clergy-man to disclose his HIV-positive status and United Nations’ ambassador for HIV and AIDS, made others painfully aware that HIV does not recognize religion or faith.
‘Were you born after 1981? That’s a risk’¦ that is’¦ you were born in an age when there is AIDS. Have you ever received blood transfusion? Have you ever shared skin-piercing instruments? Have you ever had sex from 1981? And of course, the religious leaders and born-again Christians always say: ‘With who?’ But the question is not asking: ‘With who?’. The question is saying: ‘Have you ever had sex?’ Have you ever had sex with someone who had already had sex with someone else? Have you ever had sex (with) more than one partner? Have you ever had a sexual relationship, you stopped it and then resumed after some time, (for example) you go for studies, you come back, you go for business, you come back? That’s a risk. Have you ever had an STD? Were you a virgin when you married, and if you are not married, are you a virgin now?’, Byamugisha fired away with a series of questions.
The meeting recognized that women are more at risk of HIV infection and resolved to use the pulpit to advocate for better relations between the sexes.
‘As men we need to discuss and engage in these issues as people who have been abusive in the past, as people who have perpetrated violence against women and openly discuss them. The discussion has been to encourage the male-folk to be more proactive in sharing that experience of being gender-aware, gender-sensitive, gender-proactive. When we go back to our communities we are going to take back the messages of equity, of equality, of respect for human life ‘ both for men and women’, said Bishop Paul Yowakim of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Kenya.
In October, CUAHA will have a women’s summit where issues that place girls and women at risk of HIV infection will be dealt with. The meeting also acknowledged that gender parity was lacking in the leadership of the church.