Rev. Jan A. Scholtz
“One of the most common and violent enemies of humankind today is HIV/AIDS. It has robbed many families of their loved ones leaving vulnerable and helpless orphans. Our hope is that there will be no other disease with such a tremendous impact on the lives of the poor and marginalized of our society.” (Vika in MCSA, 3)
This statement testifies the fact that HIV/AIDS continues killing across age groups, yet preventable, its spread can be contained to the point of eradication.
According to CDC publication of March 2017, Namibia has one of the world’s highest prevalence rates. The 2013 Demographic and Health Survey reported a national average adult population prevalence of 14% and as high as 23.7% in one of the regions. There is a disproportionate distribution of prevalence between women (16.9%) and men (10.9%) aged 15-49. There are an estimated 217,000 people living with HIV in Namibia and 166,000 (76%) of whom receive the antiretroviral medication.
During the World AIDS Day commemoration in Zambezi in December 2017, the then US ambassador to Namibia, Thomas Doughton, made estimated projections that by end of 2017 alone, more than 3,200 Namibians would die from the effects of HIV/AIDS and by end of 2018, mover than 6,000 will be newly infected with HIV, majority of whom will be women. He further stated that this is because older men who do not know their HIV status are having sexual relations with younger women and infecting them in the process. He added that to control the HIV epidemic in Namibia, that cycle has to be broken.
Having acknowledged the depth and the grave effects of how this epidemic either infects or affects us, this article will address the question: “What is the role of the church in the prevention of HIV/AIDS?”
The magnitude of the problem and the current speed of expansion of the HIV epidemic make prevention a primary concern. (WCC 1997:10) Today we acknowledge that everyone is at risk of getting HIV and therefore education on prevention is essential. Prevention of HIV should hence be multidisciplinary in its approach.
Churches have a vital role to play in reshaping cultural attitudes to sexual education and traditional practices of sexual ritual and behaviour. The church must also fight the idea that HIV is a punishment by a vengeful God angry at the flouting of his commandments.
If we step outside the church and ask others what is important about the church in the community, it is unlikely they would quote Jesus’s words about being the salt of the earth. They would speak of wanting the church to be useful, to make a difference to help build up the community. In other words, they would like the church to be a community asset.
The church members are a major part of the community. The church as an institution should use its moral authority to educate on different platforms (e.g. ministers’ fellowships, workshops, seminars, conferences, etc.) on ways to prevent HIV. Although there might be limitations, the church has assets it can capitalize on, the human resources. In church we find not only pastors but also teachers, doctors, nurses, household supports, counsellors, who can offer according to their respective level of expertise various teachings
As a general rule, HIV can be prevented in the following way:
Abstain from sex. This is the safest topmost way to prevent infection.
Be faithful. Having one mutual partner is the second best possible way. If both partners are HIV negative and faithful to each other, there will be no possible source of the infection. This is clearly mentioned in Leviticus 20: 10-21.
Have safer sex. This means using a condom every time partners engage in sexual activity.
Treat all sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STIs are known to be the highway of acquiring HIV infection, treating them should always be a priority.
Know your HIV status. HIV antibody test allows people to know if they are positive or negative. If positive, they can use condoms to break the chain of transmission.
Never share needles. Drugs are not only illegal, they are a health hazard. Under influence, may people would have unsafe sex and share needles, which is the most contributory to raised HIV prevalence amongst drug users.
Take precaution while handling blood. When helping an injured person (e.g. road accident), it is safe to always use gloves to avoid direct contact with blood of related products, same is mandatory among health workers.
Do not share toothbrushes or razor blades. Even though the risk of acquiring HIV is thought to be small, it is a basic hygienic rule not to share such intimate items. (WCC 1997:10-13)
These are general safety and preventive guidelines that need to be taught to all so that they will not fall prey to the epidemic.
In conclusion, this article emphasizes the fact that the church must be the salt of the earth and should not lose its saltiness (Matthew 5:13). Its role in combatting HIV is very relevant today more than ever. Therefore, the church must take up the challenge to use its moral authority to learn to be the church outside the church in other to curb the course of the HIV epidemic.
“If the church has nothing to offer to the community around it, then a few will grieve if it disappears overnight,” according to Rev. Dr. Steve de Gruchy.
* Rev. Jan A. Scholtz holds a Dip. Theology & Bac. Theology qualifications from South Africa