Group gathered for November training days in Rwanda. Photo: Ayoko Bahun-Wilson/WCC

Group gathered for November training days in Rwanda. Photo: Ayoko Bahun-Wilson/WCC

The World Council of Churches (WCC) is absorbing valuable input from communities in Rwanda that will help hone training aimed at changing attitudes toward antiretroviral medication for people living with HIV.

In some communities, the practice of “faith healing” leads to harmful approaches that discourage people living with HIV from seeking proper medical care, starting antiretroviral drugs, or continuing their treatment. The need to encourage treatment adherence is especially important so that future generations can live free from HIV.

Findings during a 20-22 November training in Rwanda will be used to inform the manual “Treatment Adherence and Faith Healing in the Context of HIV and AIDS in Africa: Training Manual for Religious Leaders,” which is being developed by the WCC Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (EHAIA) programme. The manual is one in a series of four manuals (two in French and two in English) being produced with support from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the American President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). All four are to be published by spring 2019.

At the Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Sciences in Huye, Rwanda, 31 people from theological, pastoral, educational, non-governmental and associated fields spent three days reflecting upon and weighing the content of a working draft of the guide, and considered its application in their various contexts.

During the training, participants discussed how to involve religious leaders in addressing stigma and discrimination toward people living with HIV and AIDS.

Niyigema Esperance, a psychologist who was a participant in the workshop, said: “The church has grace in abundance, and such grace should be used to create safe spaces where members searching for peace, security, well-being and healing will feel secured to open up.”

Esperance emphasized the reality of people seeking comfort from religious leaders who can make a significant change in people’s lives through communication and availability. In fact, she said, religious leaders have an obligation to make themselves available so that they understand the stakes that will enable them to advocate for their people.

“Having faith in God gives hope to live an abundant life but also to be observant in the antiretrovirals,” said another participant in the workshop, Vivien Imanzi Niyikiza from Rwanda. “Psychological accompaniment of couples during the disclosure period is really important for the survival of the couple.”

For Niyikiza, an HIV-positive status should not be synonymous of war in a couple. Therefore, he said, providing accurate information during counseling, as mentioned by the manual, is very important.

In his closing remarks, Prof. Viateur Nidkumana, deputy vice chancellor of the Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Sciences, thanked the EHAIA for a much-needed resource. “The university has programmes that target the community, and I feel the manual will be useful to educate the community,” he said.

Schools and churches strive to be “safe spaces” for youth to share (WCC press release of 24 October 2018)

In Kenya, issues of young people come to the forefront (WCC press release of 19 Octboer 2018)

Learn more about WCC-EHAIA