Churches launch HIV/AIDS policy
Starting in 1993, the churches in Zimbabwe met to discuss and chart the way forward concerning the HIV and AIDS epidemic, then 10 years old. During that first meeting, the leadership resolved to play a co-ordinated and active part with a specific mandate to help shape direction in mitigating the effects of the pandemic. “The policy development process itself has not been an easy task,” says Brigadier (Retired) David Chiweza of the HIV and AIDS Commission of the EPZ. With the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, along with the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) reporting and confirming a decline in the HIV prevalence rate in the country from a peak of 36 percent in 2003 to 20,6 percent in 2005, “there is still a strong feeling,” says the Church, “that this is still a very high rate.” The Church is working with the grassroots, and to the Church, these statistics have not yet translated into results on the ground. “Instead,” bemoans Chiweza, “the pastor is still facing more burials, more AIDS cases, and more orphans, widows and other vulnerable groups.” Cognisant of the controversies confronting religions, culture and the socio-economic set-up, the EPZ drew a policy that covered three broad and practical areas: prevention, treatment, and care and support. On prevention, the Church acknowledges the key and strategic role of prevention to end this 25-year fight against HIV. The age-old saying that prevention is better than cure sounds more relevant than in most instances and the EPZ has adopted the policy of voluntary counselling and testing (VCT). Steering clear of controversy and a potential fall-out with liberal human rights groups, and the current Ministry of Health policy, the Church has insisted that it would continue to lobby and prepare the nation for mandatory HIV testing as a future alternative to their efforts to eradicate the scourge. The scale of treatment and care and support needed in the community has necessitated that there be co-ordinated and systematic programmes that will deliver quality and effective service to the beneficiaries. The policy aims to harmonise and to share best practices while allowing room for denominational differences, especially pertaining to the area of herbal medicine. Ultimately, the just-launched policy addresses, and upholds most current practices in giving life support for orphans, widows and widowers, and other vulnerable groups such as the disabled and children. “The new goal,” explains EPZ HIV and AIDS Commission chairman Chiweza, “is to ensure that care and support programmes are identified, tracked and consistently updated to ensure that the Church leadership is able to direct resources exactly where they are needed.” This is in accordance with the broad role of the Church and fundamentals of its leadership, which is to provide hope, resilience, and continuity in the face of the devastating epidemic. “It is only the values of the Church, of morality ‘ not condoms ‘ that can stop the spread of the virus,” believes Goodwill Shana, vice-chair of the EPZ. “Anything else is cosmetic,” he maintains. Reinforcing this belief system, the United States-based Futures Group country director and chief of party, Ruth Wokup, says the EPZ policy statement is a document that seeks to instill the gospel of chastity, morality, compassion, love and uprightness. Significantly, Wokup says the policy will marry the moral mandates of the Church to stand against the evils of immorality with that of providing care, compassion and resolution to those impacted in the present and protect those in the future. “If the moral values are fraught with moral shortcomings, then they are bound to give birth to immoral values,” she sermonised. Heads of denominations, government officials, faith-based organisations, the National AIDS Council and members of the diplomatic corps witnessed the policy launch.