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Religious leaders challenge strategy to end HIV by 2030

Religious leaders and officials from the Uganda AIDS Commission in a group. (PHOTO/BOB AINE) 

MBARARA – Religious leaders under the Inter-religious Council of Uganda have challenged the strategies to end HIV by 2030 saying the messages are soft and the comfort given to HIV/Aids victims are some of the reasons frustrating efforts to fight and eliminate the scourge.

This was raised during an HIV/AIDS dialogue organized by the Interreligious Council of Uganda and Uganda AIDs Commission in Mbarara on Wednesday.

The dialogue was aimed at mending fences on how religious leaders can help in spreading the gospel of HIV prevention in their respective churches.

They argued that HIV victims have been given much comfort which doesn’t scare away the public from getting involved in acts that can promote the spread of the disease.

“In the earlier onset of the scourge, the messages that were designed and passed on to the public were threatening, people could cry, fear after hearing these messages including the famous drum that ran in the media. But today the messages in drama, plays are very soft, sweet that even those that receive it take it as real life and not threatening,” said  Siragi Ntutumo, the district secretary Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, Mbarara.

He added that when people die of the scourge, during their sendoff they can mention what has killed the deceased, they will try to rotate around, if you can’t scare and frighten people at burial where will you do it from? He also noted that some young ladies these days fear getting pregnant much more than contracting HIV which is a very dangerous trend in the country.

“Recently I attended a burial somewhere and the LC 1 chairperson was bold and told mourners that the deceased had died of HIV because he defaulted taking ARVs and even mentioned that he himself is a victim imploring mourners to go for HIV testing. The ceremony became cold but it was a good message,” he added.

Pastor Evans Matsiko of Seventh Day Adventist church said the scourge has been given a sweet face where even the victims that have seen the scourge being equated to other simple diseases like headache and flue.

“You hear people saying contracting HIV is like getting cough, headache or flue, can this message scare a young person. These are the sweet messages now out there in public, we need to go back and show HIV/Aids the original brand that would threaten and scare people,” said Pastor Evans.

He added that the comfort and support given to HIV /Aids victims also makes the diseases appreciated.

“Agencies are out there giving free things including food and other care, besides drugs. This tagged with and some people see getting the virus as an opportunity than a burden,” he added.

Some religious leaders became emotional and called for compulsory HIV testing however it was criticized by officials from Uganda AIDS commission saying it will tantamount to increased stigma.

Rev Fr. Aristotle Asiimwe of Orthodox Church even proposed HIV/Aids victims to be given identity cards as it was done to those who suffered leprosy during biblical times but his proposal meet strong criticism as not only abuse of health rights but set to increase stigma.

Dr.Eddie Nkooyo from Uganda AIDS Commission said its true they need to go back and bring in the original messages that depicted the scourge as hell and threatening

He, however, revealed that so far 76 people die every day whereas five people get infected with HIV per hour in Uganda according to the survey report done in 2016.

“Most of the people who get infected are between the age of 15-25, so we call upon religious leaders to spread the right message as far as prevention of this scourge is concerned, but not misleading the public with fake messages of faith healing, if the virus has entered your body it cannot leave it rather get suppressed when you are introduced to ARVS and reduces the chances of spreading it to another person.” Said Nkooyo.

He asked church leaders to spread the right gospel rather than misleading one on HIV prevention.

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