African churches' leader takes HIV test to encourage others

By Ecumenical News International
12 Sep 2008

The general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, the Rev Mvume Dandala, is encouraging mass voluntary testing for HIV by undergoing a personal test for the virus, and he has encouraged other religious leaders to do the same - writes Fredrick Nzwilli.

"I think more pastors should come for testing and not hide it," Dandala told Ecumenical News International as he emerged recently from a small white tent serving as a Voluntary Counselling and Testing centre at a camp for displaced persons in the Mathare slums in Nairobi.

"I am feeling greatly encouraged. I have never had as extensive counselling as Eunice [the counsellor] gave me," said Dandala, who comes from the Methodist Church in South Africa.

Activists working to stem HIV and AIDS have urged church leaders to take the lead in mass voluntary testing and counselling by being publicly tested.

Dandala did not reveal his HIV status, saying the counsellor at the testing centre had advised this was a personal matter.

The AACC leader said he had learned how the Church can be a powerful instrument in efforts to fight AIDS. "I believe, if my congregation knows that sometimes I come for my own test as their pastor, people will know they should not stigmatise" people to go for testing.

He said that pastors tested for HIV needed to take care as to whether and how they revealed their status, "but it is important for people to know, we [pastors] are also managing our lives. This will help us counter this disease."

Dandala later told about 300 displaced people living in the camp as victims of 2008 post-election violence that more people knowing their HIV status would help in the fight against AIDS.

The AACC leader explained that AIDS is like other diseases and people do not have to die of it, as people who are HIV-positive are able to manage their lives through eating the right foods and receiving medication.

"I urge the churches not to throw away people because they are infected, but to embrace them, to encourage them, to have them to go the clinics, to help them to have something to eat, to help them to be strong," said Dandala.

Pastor Anthony Makena of Hope Community, an organization that provides voluntary counselling and testing services said it is time pastors availed themselves of such facilities.

"As a church we will not understand people with AIDS unless we sit with them," said Makena.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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