From right, Very Rev Dr. Evans Onyemara General Secretary of Christian Council of Nigeria, Ayoko Bahun-Wilson Regional Coordinator for World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV/AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (WCC-EHAIA) West Africa, Most Rev. Dr. Benebo Fubara-Manuel The President of Christian Council of Nigeria, Archbishop Chibuzo Raphael Opoko Methodist Archbishop of Umuahia, Rev. Dr. Mrs. Uzoaku Williams National Chairperson of Women’s Wing of Christian Council of Nigeria and Rt. Rev Ini Ukpuho The CCN North Central Zonal Chairman in Abuja recently during a Workshop for Religious Leaders on HIV Treatment Adherence.

By Luminous Jannamike, Abuja

The President, Christian Council of Nigeria, Most Revd. Benebo Fubara-Manuel, has said engaging faith leaders and leveraging their pulpits will be a game changer in addressing behavioural challenges in Nigeria’s HIV response.

This position was also affirmed by the Northeast Zonal Coordinator, National Agency for the Control of AIDS Mr. Tobias John, this during a capacity building Workshop for Religious Leaders organised by the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) in Abuja.

Speaking on the theme, ‘HIV Treatment Adherence’, 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 had 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 that 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 address this gap.”

Earlier, the President of Christian Council of Nigeria, 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.

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