By Progress Godfrey, Abuja
The World Council of Churches in collaboration with Christian Council of Nigeria tasked religious leaders across Nigeria on the adherence to HIV treatment.
Speaking during a capacity building Workshop for Religious Leaders organised by the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) in Abuja on Tuesday, the President of the CCN, Most Rev. Dr. Benebo Fubara-Manuel, noted that the failure to address stigmatisation of persons living with HIV/AIDS was behind the unwillingness of Nigerians to go for testing.
According to him, “Many people are afraid of going for HIV testing because of stigmatisation. So, part of what we aim to achieve is to help reduce stigmatisation by letting people understand that HIV, in itself, is not a moral question, but a simple disease that can be successfully managed.
“For this reason, church leaders are no longer afraid to speak about HIV in order to help people realise that it is a matter to be handled.”
Fubara-Manuel slammed religious leaders who recommend faith healing while urging the sick to dump their medications.
“Anybody who gives HIV patients the hope of miracle healing without medication is not a well-trained leader,” he said.
He therefore advised people living with the disease to stick with the Antiretroviral Therapy, adding that with regular use of the Therapy, a healthy life is assured.
Also speaking, the Northeast Zonal Coordinator of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), Mr. Tobias John, said Nigeria’s response to the disease had remained strong and resilient in the last two decades, but regretted that the challenges of stigma and discrimination were still existent in the people’s minds.
According to him, the country is on the verge of removing HIV from the list of public health emergencies, but the negative perception of the patients in the society has been a hindrance.
To overcome this barrier, John said that engaging the services of religious leaders as advocates would be the game changer because of the moral authority they exercise over their large number of followers.
“So yes, there are issues around access to justice for survivors of gender based violence. Yes, there are issues about women’s rights to make their own choices.
He said, “HIV response in Nigeria is over 20 years. We started from scratch where people were dying in their numbers as a result of HIV/AIDS, but research and efforts have moved us to a level that as we speak today HIV/AIDS seems to be reduced to a level of where it is no longer seen as a deadly disease.
“Government has done well in terms of educating the populace on preventive measures, treatment, and stigma and discrimination. However, we still have a gap between perception about the epidemic and behavioural attitudes of the people, particularly stigma and discrimination.
“By the parameters of HIV/AIDS, Nigeria is moving to a level where we can say the disease is no longer within the public health emergency, but the negative mindset about HIV/AIDs still exists and poses a challenge. That’s why we see faith leaders as the game changers that can enable us to address this gap,”