Religious Leaders Should Take Lead On Raising HIV/AIDS Awareness

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Religious leaders shouldincreasingly become involved with the fight against HIV/AIDS in Sierra Leone,the Rev. Cannon Gideon Byamugisha said on Monday at a two-day conference aimedat addressing the issue, the Concord Times/ reports. The meetingwas organized by Christian Aid and Promotion of Sexual Health andEducation in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Byamugisha said thatpeople who have been tested for HIV/AIDS often are afraid to disclose theirstatus, adding, "I was tested positive in 1992. I was given six months tolive by the doctor." He said that partnering with religious leaders wouldbe extremely effective in fighting HIV/AIDS (Concord Times/,1/24).


POSHE Director Valerie Tucker said that Byamugisha and Sheik Muhamad Kibudde,who also spoke at the conference, had "openly disclosed their HIV-positivestatus" and are members of the African Networkof Religious Leaders Living With or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (Horner, Concord Times/, 1/24). Tucker also said that social stigma attached to HIV/AIDS oftendiscourages HIV-positive people from speaking out and makes others reluctant toseek testing. She called on religious leaders to help raise awareness aboutHIV/AIDS and support people living with the disease (ConcordTimes/, 1/24). Tucker said the leaders are very powerful in Sierra Leone,adding, "If we were to cut down on the spread of HIV epidemic, it isnecessary that religious leaders take the lead" (Horner, ConcordTimes/, 1/24).

Brima Kargbo, director of Sierra Leone's National AIDS Secretariat, said theHIV/AIDS pandemic has expanded from a health issue to a development issue,adding that all development sectors and the public should become involved infighting the disease. Sierra Leone's first lady, Sia Koroma, also called onpoliticians, teachers, advocacy groups and faith leaders to work together toaddress the epidemic. "The consequences of stigma and discrimination couldbe devastating at different levels. People are unlikely to get tested for HIVif they thought that they were going to be condemned should they be tested positive,"she said (Concord Times/, 1/24).

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