HIV/AIDS continues to have a negative impact on families and communities throughout Africa. Very few families, if any, have been spared the devastating effects of the scourge. This is the reality that confronts Africa today and the Church finds herself at the centre of this crisis as she deals with issues affecting families and communities. HIV/AIDS affects families and communities negatively in a variety of ways. In communities around Africa women often bear an unfair burden in caring for the family. Children on the other hand are being forced to head families after the loss of parents to AIDS. Grandparents, and in particular grandmothers, are returning to being primary caregivers of small children.
HIV/AIDS is fuelling poverty more and more, creating an ongoing spiral of disease and poverty that is undermining family stability. Children are forced out of school and women and girls, in some instances, are pressured into becoming commercial sex workers. These are some among the many issues that the Church can and must address.
A proper faith-based response to HIV/AIDS should involve a practical multi-pronged approach that aims to stop the spread of the disease, and encourage the setting up of community based support of children orphaned by AIDS.
This crisis caused by the pandemic provides an unparalleled opportunity for witness to the gospel through HIV/AIDS services and other promotional activities and advocacy. The Church through its ministry programs such as youth services, men's and women's ministries, bible study groups and other ministry groups can play a major role by providing awareness, support, education and care to those affected by HIV/AIDS.
The church should become a place of openness where persons whose lives are affected can freely share their pain and reach out for compassion, understanding and acceptance. The Church should provide care and support to individuals and families whose lives have been touched by HIV/AIDS. The Church should be a centre of education where people are informed about AIDS and receive support and encouragement to help men, women and young people to change their behaviour.
The Way Forward:
- In the light of these opportunities and challenges, the Church can respond in the following ways:
- Focus more attention on family-related issues such as sexual education and marriage enrichment.
- Encourage pastors and Church leaders to provide more teachings about HIV/AIDS and family matters in the pulpit, classroom and any other platform of the Church.
- Develop more materials and provide opportunities to open discussion on issues to do with HIV and AIDS.
- Address issues of economic empowerment to help break the downward spiral of poverty which open up doors for the spread of HIV/AIDS.
- Provide adequate care and support for vulnerable children and people living with HIV/AIDS.
- Stand alongside widows and those affected by HIV/AIDS and speak against all forms of stigma and discrimination against those infected with the HI virus.
- Offer a helping hand to those needing care and support.
The Church has great potential to make a difference in mitigating the negative effects of HIV/AIDS and as such, the Church must and should commit to marshal resources and sharpen tools to challenge people to make the Church the centrepiece in our Christian response to HIV/AIDS.
by Cosmos Alfas Mutowa Executive Director – NCM Africa