Church leaders have been identified as crucial figures in ending the spread of HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe, according to a newly launched project aimed at targeting community and faith responses in attaining the 95-95-95 target.
The project dubbed the Faith and Community Initiative (FCI) which is supported by the USAID, PEPFAR and OPHID, recognise the role played by church and community leaders in mitigating the spread of HIV/AIDS in communities.
Launching the program last, OPHID Programs Director Sara Page Mutongwiza underscored the need for an inclusive engagement of all community, church and traditional leaders in the fight against HIV.
Mutongwiza said although Zimbabwe is close to attaining the control of the spread of the virus, it was important to bring on board leaders at the community level.
“It was felt that as we are approaching epidemic control, as you are aware as a country, we are towards the 95-95-95 targets and as Zimbabwe, we are very close to achieving epidemic control but we will not get there without the faith communities, without the traditional leaders and without the communities coming on board,” she said.
The FCI recognises the progress that has been done so far in as far as controlling the spread of HIV in Southern and Eastern Africa, is concerned.
Mutongwiza lamented that faith is critical in influencing health practices and the program is based on two approaches which are targeting community leaders and working with the justice sector.
“84% of the world is religiously affiliated. So, we do understand and we practice our actions and we practice our beliefs within a faith system.
“We are working through faith and communities’ structures and existing faith-based organisations. The second prong to this program is strengthening justice for children and again it is working through the same networks, faith-based organisations but also the justice sector,” she added.
Implementing partners for the program include FACT – Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Association of Churches Related Hospitals (ZACH) Family Aids Caring Trust and AFRICAID.
Reverend Innocent Chitanda from the Union for Development of Apostolic Churches and Zionists Churches in Zimbabwe ( UDACIZA) urged church leaders to play the advocacy and counselling role for people living with HIV.
He said most of them rely on religion as a source of comfort.
“This is the reason why it is critical for religious leaders to develop life-giving theologies that promote adherence in the context of HIV/AIDS.
“Although many factors affect adherence (patient-related factors such as acceptance, disclosure, and family support/ accessibility of medical centres; social support etc, research also indicate that claims of “faith healing” or “miraculous healing of HIV” are a major stumbling block towards reaching the 95-95-95 UN global goals towards HIV control,” Rev Chitanda said.
ZACH Technical Advisor-Advocacy and Communications, Shamiso Yikoniko added that the program will among other issues, major on sexual violence and seeking justice for children.
She said a total of 2540(64% progress towards the annual target) boys have been enrolled in the program.
Yikoniko added that messages, of hope, expanding case findings through HIV self-testing and retention for men, adolescents and children as well as addressing the stigma and non-adherence related to faith healing will be made deliberate in trying to reach out communities.
According to Mutongwiza, the program seeks to speak on adherence in men as research has shown that there is little health-seeking behaviour in men.
She said there have to be ways to reach to men and boys to get them to go to health facilities for testing and take up treatment.
FACTOPHIDSara Page MutongwizaUDACIZA