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.