NYANDUNGU - Fifty religious leaders from all parts of Rwanda over the weekend voluntarily tested for the HIV virus as a way of fighting the AIDS stigma.
The one-day meeting held at Hotel La Palisse, Nyandungu was aimed at emphasizing the role of religious leaders in the fight against AIDS and set strategies against the AIDS stigma.
Andrew Butare, the country representative of Christian Aid said the testing that was carried out on a voluntary basis was a sign of leading by example.
“If found positive, treatment will be guaranteed and they will be advised how to handle themselves in the society as well as spread the campaign of living positively,” he said
Reverend Canon Gideon Byamugisha, who is also the regional ambassador for Christian Aid, revealed his status being positive since 1992, adding that had it not been the church’s help, he would have been dead by now.
He said that fighting the scourge was a joint operation that God supports since AIDS is un-Godly.
Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda’s National AIDS Control Commission (CNLS) commended the exercise saying it was vital for religious leaders to get involved in the fight due to the influence they command in the general public.
She added that since 90 percent of religious leaders were represented at the function, the fight should be widespread because they represented at least 98 percent of their congregations.
“Since statistics show that 15 percent of the sick are children below 18 years—and these are the leaders of tomorrow, religious leaders should fight the stigma and talk to the youths about sexuality in their own words,” Binagwaho said. She urged religious leader to do whatever is in their powers to reach to people and to stop the scourge.
With the help of Christian Aid and CNLS, religious leaders will find measures to prevent the increase of HIV, non-judgmental care and treatment of people living with HIV and their families.
They also have plans to increase advocacy for the rights of affected people.