The Malawi Council of Churches is reviewing its opposition to the use of condoms in the country's anti-AIDS fight, and has said it may support the use of condoms by married couples where one or both partners are HIV positive - writes Frank Jomo.
"Where one partner or both are infected, and we want to avoid transmission of the virus to the other, condom use might be considered but only with proper counselling," said Lutheran Bishop Joseph Bvumbwe, chairperson of the council's board, on 25 February in the central region town of Mponela. Still, he added, "The church has not changed its stand on the use of condoms, and we will not support wholesale use of condoms."
In the past, a number of church denominations in Malawi have condemned the use of condoms for encouraging, as they believe, promiscuity and pre-marital sex among young people. Instead of condoms, the churches have called for sexual abstinence before marriage.
Bishop Bvumbwe was speaking at a meeting to review an MCC manual on HIV and AIDS. He also said that clergy should fight any harmful cultural practices that might increase the spread of the virus.
Bvumbwe said, however, that the process of uprooting harmful cultural practices should not affect Malawi's national traditions. "We should preserve our Malawian identity and not become westernised," he cautioned.
Health officials say that about 10 people die every hour in Malawi due to AIDS-related causes. Official estimates put the number of Malawians who are HIV positive at around one million. About 700 000 people have died in the country after being infected with the human immunodeficiency virus. Today, about 91 000 Malawian children are infected with HIV, with many of these having contracted the virus from their mothers.
The MCC has developed its HIV/AIDS training manual as something to be used by clergy in addressing the pandemic. The document offers information about HIV/AIDS, and tackles issues such as behavioural change, advocacy, human rights, and gender and programme development.
[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.]