‘Bless a condom, save a life’

2011-03-30 00:00

IF religious leaders would give their blessing to the use of condoms and anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) they would make a considerable contribution to the fight against HIV and Aids, says a prominent local academic.

Professor Nceba Gqaleni, leader of the traditional medicine programme at UKZN, was speaking on Monday at a public panel discussion convened by Chart, the Collaborative for HIV and Aids, which is based in the School of Religion and Theology (Sorat) at UKZN’s Pietermaritzburg campus.

Nceba said research on traditional healers treating patients who are also taking ARVs shows that the rates of adherence to ARV treatment are significantly higher. He suggested that the same would happen if clergy would bless ARVs and more actively support congregation members who are taking medication. These people would then be more likely to stick to their treatment programmes.

He said the same would apply to the use of condoms. “If bishops or priests would bless condoms, it might make people take them more seriously. In rural settings where there is still a migrant workforce, it would be very helpful for men returning home to their families to get condoms that have been blessed from the local priest rather than from a clinic,” said Gqaleni.

He also referred to the government’s ABC programme to fight HIV and Aids, “Abstain, Be faithful, Condomise”. He called on the constituencies that focus on different aspects of this approach to give each other space to promote their strategy as strongly as possible and not criticise one another.

“If some organisations want to focus on ‘abstain’ and ‘be faithful’ because that is in line with their morality, they should not criticise other agencies that promote the ‘condomise’ approach.”

Nceba noted that treatment adherence is also a critical factor in fighting Aids. “TB has shown us that if we get treatment wrong, we will have an even bigger problem on our hands because drug-resistant strains of HIV could develop. We must encourage people to stick to treatment at all costs because if we have to treat drug-resistant HIV, the cost to the national budget would be the whole national budget — the whole budget would have to go to it.”

The panel was entitled “The questions AIDS asks of communities of faith” and included two other participants, Sally Smith, of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS) in Geneva, and Dr Beverley Haddad, director of Chart and director of the theology and development programme at Sorat.

Smith said there is growing recognition in diplomatic and development sectors that the faith community and faith-based organisations play an important role internationally.

“Faith literacy is now a requirement for people in diplomatic and development circles. People are being sent on courses to acquire this knowledge because of the new recognition that faith communities are important.”

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