Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Religion and AIDS Symposium

I’ve just returned from Durban (also known as Durban by the Sea or locally lovingly called Durbs) where I attended a symposium about Religion and AIDS. I grew up in Durban. Up to my tenth year we lived five minutes walk from the main beach. So in that sense it was great to be back in Durban for two days.
This morning the symposium started at the University of KwaZulu Natal. It was hosted by an organisation known as HEARD (Health Economis and HIV/AIDS Research Division) with Prof Alan Whiteside chairing the meeting. There’s a lot of this stuff going on and it is impossible to attend every single conference on AIDS. I received the invitation however and because I have met Alan before and know that he has a great heart for Swaziland, clearly seen through his publication called Reviewing Emergencies For Swaziland, I decided to travel the distance to attend. I was also asked to deliver a short paper on the Swaziland Situation, with special reference to the Home-Based Care program which we are running. If you haven’t read it yet, you can download and read my publication: On becoming the Hands and Feet of Christ in an AIDS-ridden community.
One of the advantages of attending specialised conferences such as these, is that one immediately makes contact with people sharing the same vision and the possibility of networking becomes much greater. Once again, I was not disappointed. I met up with Robin Root, Associate professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the Baruch College in New York and we are now trying to set up a meeting with her in Swaziland on 1 August, at which time I want to introduce her to some of our volunteer caregivers and also give them a chance to tell her first-hand what we are doing in Swaziland.
Some of the other papers were also very interesting to listen to, but the one which touched me the most was presented by Marisa Casale. She is a staff member of HEARD and had been responsible for evaluating a church-based AIDS prevention program run in an area in Durban, known as Cato Manor – an extremely poor suburb with a more than 50% unemployment rate. A local church had started visiting a school in that area where they had built relationships with the children, did AIDS awareness programs with the children and eventually also assisted them in making the right choices in an attempt to prevent them from getting infected with HIV. Their main aim was to promote abstinence among the children.
After the program had been running for a number of years they felt that they would like an objective view on the success of the program and approached HEARD to do this research. Marisa was responsible for this. I didn’t bother to write down everything she said (trusting that I will get a copy of her paper), but it was amazing when they found that, after having run this program for a few years, the sexually active number of children in this school was down to around 40%. In a control school which was also examined, but which had not run the prevention program, more than 60% of the children were sexually active.
For many people this 40% sounds extremely high. It is extremely high, even more so when you realise that the possibility of most of these children becoming infected with HIV is an absolute reality. But I know the influence which poverty has on communities. Often moral behaviour becomes deeply affected when money for food does not even exist.
What encouraged me about this was the fact that the church can indeed play a significant role in the prevention of AIDS. In fact, in my own paper, I said the following:

It is unfortunate that the church does not seem to be having a great influence in preventing the spreading of the HI virus. We are all well aware that the propagation through the church of condom usage is a highly controversial topic. While the Roman Catholic Church has decreed that the use of condoms are not approved, most other churches are equally reluctant to advise their church members to use condoms as they feel that this may sanction extra-marital sex. I am of the opinion that there may also be another reason why churches do not feel comfortable in propagating condoms as a way to prevent HIV transmission. Although condoms undoubtedly decrease the risks of transmitting the virus, even a high profile company such as Durex warns us on their website that “no method of contraception can provide 100% protection against pregnancy, HIV (AIDS) and STDS.” The reluctance of many churches to advise people to use condoms may be compared to advising someone who wants to play Russian roulette with five rounds in the cylinder to remove four of the rounds before firing the revolver. Obviously the risks are much smaller, but most churches I know off would rather prefer people to live in such a way that there is no risk at all of getting AIDS.

I don’t think what I said was incorrect. But there is hope that certain Christian programs are starting to have an effect on the way that people, especially the youth, make moral choices. I believe we still have a long way to go, but after today, the tunnel isn’t quite as dark anymore.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008 - Posted by | AIDS, Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Death, Health, HIV, HIV & AIDS, HIV/AIDS Documents, Home-based Caring, Hope, Meetings, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Stigma, Swaziland, Theology, Vision

5 Comments »

  1. This is an interesting post — thank you for putting it up here. I think it’s great that churches in at least some areas are able to influence kids and teens to choose abstinence as a mode of HIV prevention. I’m curious about one thing. Did Ms. Casale mention whether transactional sex was an issue in the area she was talking about? I know that this often becomes a big issue in very poor areas. I think that’s one area where issues of abstinence and condoms get even more complicated than usual. I haven’t heard much about if or how church groups deal with those particular questions, so I’m just wondering if you heard anything.

    Thanks again for your post! Best wishes.

    Comment by h.e.g. | Thursday, July 24, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thanks for your interest in this. You are 100% correct about the problem of transactional sex in poorer communities – one of the reasons I maintain that if we could wipe out poverty we could move leap years ahead in the fight against AIDS. She didn’t mention anything specific about it, but I will be contacting her today to try and get the full report and if I find an answer to this, I will inform you.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, July 24, 2008 | Reply

  3. I had contact with Marisa and she answered your question as follows: “We found no differences between control and intervention learners regarding exposure to violence or transactional sex, despite the apparent positive influence on self-efficacy and resilience. This calls for further exploration, but reasons for this could be varied and lie within the programme and/or the context in which youth live (e.g. structural determinants that are hard to address).”

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, July 24, 2008 | Reply

  4. […] bookmarks tagged swaziland Religion and AIDS Symposium saved by 7 others     theweirdone57 bookmarked on 07/26/08 | […]

    Pingback by Pages tagged "swaziland" | Saturday, July 26, 2008 | Reply

  5. […] the link between religion and AIDS. She was also at the conference in Durban that I wrote about last week. Unfortunately our time was a bit restricted, as she had another appointment later today, about a […]

    Pingback by Listening to the stories of AIDS workers « Mission Issues | Saturday, November 23, 2013 | Reply


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