by Justus Waimiri
[ACNS source: Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa] Talking to congregations about HIV/AIDS every Sunday is one of the innovative ways that the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is using to spread messages about HIV prevention and AIDS care.
Each Sunday the Church's AIDS Co-ordinator, Mr Emmanuel Olatunji, visits worshippers in their churches to discuss how they can avoid HIV infection and how they as a congregation can care for those who are affected in their community.
To drive his point home, he is accompanied by a person living with HIV/AIDS who shares his or her testimony. This helps to give credence that AIDS is real and even people who appear healthy can be infected.
When we visited Christ Church in the Diocese of Abuja with Emmanuel, the parish was anxiously waiting for him having extended an invitation a couple of weeks earlier but which he could not honour immediately due to busy schedules.
The service was spiced with good drama and music by the youth about how to avoid contracting AIDS.
When he rose to speak, the AIDS Coordinator candidly explained ways in which HIV is transmitted and ways in which it is not. Parishioners appeared surprised to hear that sharing utensils and even clothes cannot transmit HIV. And they had lots of questions to ask after the presentation about the subject.
To demonstrate their care for people living with AIDS, the congregation gives a love offering that will go towards helping Mrs Maureen Nnemeka - who is living the virus - begin an income generating project and defray costs for purchasing antiretroviral medicines.
Over six million people are presently infected by HIV/AIDS in Nigeria and it is estimated that one person gets infected every minute in the most populous country in Africa.
Christ Church's parish minister, the Revd Simeon Babatunde, says his church will continue to give hope and support to people infected by HIV and those that have lost loved ones. "We cannot afford to look the other way when people around us are sick and dying, our church will be AIDS friendly," he says.
The Diocese of Abuja has a Voluntary Counselling and Testing centre, situated at the All Saints' Church compound and offers HIV testing and antiretroviral drugs at controlled prices.