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Affected Clergymen to Join AIDS Support Group
by Finnigan wa Simbeye
CAPA 040416-5
April 16, 2004

[CAPA - Tanzania] About 40 Tanzanian clergymen living with HIV/AIDS will join the African Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (ANERELA+), after a retreat planned for early 2005.

ANERELA+ Co-ordinator, Revd Jape Heath of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa, said last week in Dar es Salaam that the 2005 retreat will recruit up to 40 church ministers in Tanzania, who are living with HIV/AIDS, or those affected by the virus. The latter are people who have lost a close relative or a family member through the disease, or have relatives who are infected.

“Currently, we are working with the Christian Council of Tanzania to identify potential members, before the 2005 retreat,” said Revd Heath, who discovered his HIV-positive status in 2000.

The retreat is expected to be held in Dar es Salaam. According to Revd Heath, stigma remains the biggest obstacle against the campaign to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa.

He was speaking after a two-day workshop on HIV/AIDS, organised by the Association of Journalists Against AIDS in Tanzania, and Churches United in the Struggle Against HIV and AIDS in Southern and Eastern Africa.

Revd Heath pointed out that the main objective of ANERELA+ is to rid the Church of stigma, which is so rampant that some church ministers are currently debating whether presiding over funerals of people who die of AIDS should be continued.

He took issue with church ministers who consider people living with HIV/AIDS as sex perverts, observing that this was not necessarily the case.

The ANERELA+ co-ordinator revealed that the organisation plans to extend its membership to 13 African countries from the current seven, and increase membership to 300 clergymen, up from the present 70, over the next three years.

Established in October 2003 during the 11th International Conference of People Living with HIV/AIDS held in Kampala, ANERELA+ members are currently found in Burundi, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

Last September, Revd Heath represented ANERELA+ during a consultation between the Council of African Provinces of Africa (CAPA) and CORE Initiative, that deliberated on ways to scale up the Anglican Church’s response to HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Among the leaders of the network is Revd Canon Gideon Byamugisha of Church of Uganda, who was the first clergyman in Africa to declare openly that he was HIV-positive. He did so in 1992.