HEALTH activists have launched a campaign to lobby churches and other institutions to view HIV as a health and not moral issue so as to eradicate stigma associated with the condition.
By Phyllis Mbanje
This was revealed during the launch of the Zimbabwe Stigma Index (ZSI) report convened by the Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV (ZNNP+) in Harare.
The ZSI is a research initiative driven and implemented by people living with HIV. It seeks to measure the levels of stigma associated with HIV.
Participants called on church leaders to be open about HIV and Aids issues and discourage congregants from looking at it from a moralistic point of view which they described as judgmental.
Tonderai Chiduku, co-ordinator of national stigma index, said some of the findings of their research were that leaders of various churches were reluctant to discuss HIV and Aids and even those who were infected were reluctant to disclose their status.
“We need to put in place some form of dialogue with the church and discuss these concerns because they hamper access to treatment,” Chiduku said.
He also raised concern over church leaders who discouraged their HIV-positive congregants from taking medication on false assurances that they had healed spiritually. “This is a big issue which requires setting up a framework for dialogue.”
Speaking at the same event, ZNNP+ executive director Muchanyara Mukamuri said the report’s main objective was to help stakeholders come up with interventions that would effectively address issues of stigma.
“Because stigma acts as a barrier to treatment, it should be dealt with if we are to realise our goal of getting to zero new infections,” Mukamuri said.
She, however, said the fight against HIV and Aids was pivoted on adequate funding which was still a problem in Zimbabwe.
“What we need is domestic financing because if we continue to rely on outside funding, they will continue to dictate to us and some of their programmes might not be suitable or helpful in our context,” she said.
Other key findings of the report, whose research was commissioned in 2013, indicate that children of people living with the HIV were among the most discriminated.
“This occurs in various settings, school, and church and even at health facilities,” Chiduku said. Of the over 1 900 respondents who took part in the research, 65,5% had experienced form of stigma and discrimination.