‘Don’t dissuade HIV/AIDS patients from taking anti-retroviral therapy’
Religious leaders have been told not to discourage their members, who are living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired ImmunoDeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) from taking Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART), in the hope that doing so will compromise their faith.
This was the admonition of participants at the ongoing five-day workshop in Lagos organised by the World Council of Churches in collaboration with the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN).
They noted that poor adherence to treatment by HIV patients has the potential to negatively impact outcome of treatment efforts.
West Africa Regional Co-ordinator, World Council of Churches, Ayoko Bahun-Wilson, who spoke at the event, tagged “Consultation for Religious Leaders on HIV Treatment Adherence,” said the body had shown leadership traits by creating safe spaces for its communities to deepen their knowledge and engender reflections on ART.
She encouraged stakeholders to find ways to increase HIV treatment adherence and address challenges brought by faith leaders, who discourage people living with HIV from utilising ART.
“We can’t change the past, but what we can do is to chart a future guided by our love for those we could not save,” she said.
The President, Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN), Most Rev. (Dr.) Benebo Fubara-Manuel said in recent years, there exist contradictions in Christendom on issue of healing, noting that many now believe that when they pray, it is more effective than taking medications.
“They are forgetting the old traditional philosophy that ‘to work is to pray’. And this is the vision of the church. Show me your faith or your life, show me your work and I will show you your faith. “Our churches on the pulpits preach healings by prayer only and our testimonies are weak when we speak about healing through medical science, or through counsel, community support and we are forgetting that God works in mysterious ways,” he said.
He called for concerted efforts in ensuring adherence to treatment by changing theologies, saying clerics should let people know that prayer alone is sometimes wonderful, but treatment, is sometimes the path that God has chosen for His people.
“If the church or faith based community failed to collaborate then we will be going in a retrogressive manner and we would not achieve as good success as we ought to achieve,“ he warned.
Community Support Adviser, UNAIDS Nigeria, Gabriel Undelikwo, said the fact that COVID-19 exist, does not undermine other problems such as HIV, that are there.
“So we have problems of HIV, poverty, human rights abuses and inequality that COVID-19 has accentuated. These are things that have for a long period acted as structural barriers to ending AIDS and ensuring people have access to better health services. We need to ensure that we end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 that is the target that we have given ourselves.”
According to him, there are still many people that need to be on treatment, but have not been tested, or placed on treatment. “We still have children that are born with HIV, these are all preventable.”
He said they are trying to ensure they provide testing, treatment, and prevention services to people and the religion community plays significant role in achieving this objective.
“The faith-based community is paramount in achieving the dream of ending HIV, particularly pertaining to treatment. They have important role to ensure that those who are on treatment stay on treatment,” he said.
A representative of Nasrul-lahi-li Fathi Society of Nigeria (NASFAT), Alhaja Ganiat Babalola, NASFAT, stressed that stigmatisation is making many people to fear declaring their HIV status in the country. She urged religious leaders to use the pulpit to enlighten members on adherence to HIV protocol and treatment.
Ilesanmi Adebola of Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, said based on research and feedback, there exist high level of stigma in the country.
She said many Nigerians still doubt the existence of the virus and those that declare their status are being stigmatized.
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