A new initiative, aimed at challenging HIV-related stigma, has been launched in Harare.
USPG is partnering with the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe to drive forward this initiative, working with a coalition of organisations and church-related groups, operating at national level. The initiative is aimed at reducing the stigma experienced by people living with HIV.
The Revd Canon Chris Chivers, Deputy Chair of USPG’s Trustees, attended the launch.
He explained: ‘The discrimination and prejudice experienced by people living with HIV can have a devastating effect on their quality of life and well-being. Not only that, but it contributes directly to the premature death of many people. People are afraid to discover their status and they do not access the support and treatment they need to stay well. People die early and unnecessarily.’
Canon Chivers, who has worked on HIV and reconciliation projects with the church in South Africa, added: ‘I know from my experience in southern Africa that encouraging people to get past the stigma attached to HIV is absolutely key in enabling communities to address this enormous challenge.’
Just over 14 per cent of the population of Zimbabwe is HIV positive; 60 per cent are women; 16 per cent of children in Zimbabwe are AIDS orphans. Women and children, especially orphans, are among the most vulnerable groups to the effects of stigma.
Proactive programme to combat HIV and HIV stigma
The Anglican Church in Manicaland, supported by USPG, has initiated a proactive programme of combating HIV-related stigma.
Dr David Evans, USPG’s Director of Community Engagement, explained: ‘As a result of the church’s HIV programme, communities are starting to talk more openly about the issues, and people living with HIV are experiencing greater acceptance and support. The evidence for these changes is however anecdotal. The opportunity we have today is to be able to measure objectively and robustly the effectiveness of efforts being spearheaded by the church in reducing stigma.’
The initiative being spearheaded by USPG involves the deployment of a tool called the Stigma Index which has been developed by a coalition of organisations including International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), UNAIDS, the Global Network of People living with HIVAIDS (GNP+) and the International Community of Women Living with HIVAIDS (ICW). It is a means for assessing levels of stigma within communities and populations.
Dr Evans said: ‘The Stigma Index has not been used previously in Zimbabwe, but in other countries it has been used to help in the fight to bring better services and support to individuals and households affected by HIV/AIDS.
‘Where people are facing abuse and maltreatment every day because of their HIV status, the Stigma Index will record this and we can then use the information to raise awareness of the issues. We can use the information to work with governments and health bodies to change policy, programmes and laws to help people living with HIV.’
He added: ‘There is a desperate need to reduce stigma in Zimbabwe because the prevalence of HIV is so high. This new initiative signals a bold and determined step by the church to express the love and acceptance of God to all people – regardless of their HIV status.’
Father Tambaoga Manjengwa, National Coordinator of Anglican Relief and Development in Zimbabwe (ARDeZ), explained: ‘With the church at the forefront of this initiative, we can ensure that this work will touch the lives of the people it is hardest to reach.
'The church is at the very centre of communities and we are in a unique position to ensure that people in those communities are heard. By themselves, outside agencies would find it much harder to build trust and get people involved, but by working together – communities and agencies – we can make a huge difference.
'Through this initiative the church will minister to the most marginalised and vulnerable in society – it is the gospel in action.’
Article from: USPG