Religious groups draft memorandum on HIV fight
Stabroek News
September 1, 2002

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Religious organisations are being urged to form alliances with non-governmental and government organisations in the fight against the spread of HIV, disease which has infected some seven and a half percent of the country's adult population.

This was one of the things listed in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) drafted by representatives of the Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Baha'i faiths when they met at a one-day consultation on Friday to discuss their response to the dreaded disease.

The consultation, which was convened at Cara Inn, was organised by the Guyana Council of Churches (GCC) in collaboration with the United Nations Theme Group on HIV and AIDS. The main purpose of the consultation was to encourage and promote greater involvement of religious organisations in the response to the disease.

Because most of the representatives present at the consultation were not leaders of their organisations they opted not to sign the MOU. As a result, GCC Chairman Bishop Juan Edghill said he would convene a meeting with all the heads of those organisations that were present at the consultation and it is expected that the MOU will be signed at that meeting.

The draft MOU also indicated that the different organisations will plan projects for World AIDS Day, which is commemorated on December 1 each year. The theme for 2002/2003 is "Stigma and discrimination: Live and let live."

The move to plan projects is in direct response to Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, urging that all churches, mandirs and temples highlight the disease during one of their religious ceremonies. He is of the opinion that in doing so people will be brought together symbolically but in a concrete way to fight against HIV and AIDS.

The representatives also listed on the MOU that they recognised the need for training of counsellors in care and support in their different organisations. Also, they are expected to pay keen attention to the impact of the virus on family members whose relatives are infected. They saw the need, too, for networking of state-based organisations and NGOs for better collaboration in the fight.

In delivering the feature address the minister pointed out that bringing God on the nation's side is part of the fight against the disease and it will mean success for the country.

According to the minister, the social teaching in the churches underpins the essential link between faith and justice and senses the unique value of each human being and the rights of all to share the resources that are existing.

The minister noted that when one looks at one of the major problems of HIV and AIDS, the church not only has an essential role but one that is an imperative. He explained that stigma and discrimination was one issue of the disease, which the church should focus on. He lamented that when the history of the disease was examined the church could not always look at itself with pride since it may have contributed to some of the problems society face with the disease.

Ramsammy gave the example of a woman in Miami who was a church leader but also held a public service position and was requested to give permission for a march against the disease. According to the minister the woman's response to the request was: "It's Sodom and Gomorrah. When you get in trouble then God has a right to punish you."

He noted that her response was against the teachings, principles and philosophy of the church. "People will do wrong and that is why we talk about forgiveness and understanding..."

He also opined that HIV has highlighted the ongoing struggle of the church and other faith communities with their understanding of sexuality as regards the behavior and orientation. He said the disease also highlighted the positive contribution that faith communities can make to the wider understanding of sexuality that affirms the unique yet equal value of dignity of each being.

In brief remarks Chair of the UN Theme Group, Dr Sreelakshmi Gururaja, said that all should be involved in the fight against the disease as partners. She said that the UN Theme Group saw the consultation as another step to building on what was already existing and strengthening and broadening the partnerships.