As the meeting closed on 26 June in Limuru, Kenya, the outgoing chairperson of the International Reference Group (IRG) of the WCC’s Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (EHAIA), Astrid Berner Rodoreda, recalled the reticence that surrounded the topic of sexuality in church circles when the group first came together in 2003.

Rodoreda, who is also the HIV senior adviser for the German organization Bread for the World, was accompanied by her successor, Bishop Godson Lawson of Togo and Rev. Dr Nyambura Njoroge, EHAIA programme executive. The group noted that, from the beginning, they realized that, since HIV and AIDS are sexually transmitted infections, the church could not help people cope with the challenges without addressing sexuality, a difficult subject in many churches and taboo in many wider communities.

At the beginning, churches still had a long way to go in addressing not only the subject of sexuality but the even more sensitive topics of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI).

Bishop Lawson, a Methodist minister, noted, however, that when the IRG was established, HIV was low on churches’ agenda, but today, most member churches have set up HIV and AIDS desks.

Rodoreda also commented on the 90-90-90 concept and the current status of the HIV and AIDS pandemic. The concept seeks to have 90 percent of people living with HIV knowing their sero-status by 2020. Out of that percentage, 90 percent should be on treatment by 2020, and out of the latter group, 90 percent should have an undetectable viral load to stop the spread of HIV.

The outgoing EHAIA chairperson said setbacks persist because many countries no longer view HIV and AIDS as an emergency largely because of free anti-retroviral (ARV) programmes. And yet, “a lot of people are being put on treatment, but a lot of them are falling out,” she said.

Part of the problem lay in the much-hyped faith-healing, which makes people on ARVs throw them away on assumption that they are healed, only for them to develop resistance to the virus, for which there is no known cure. “At the moment, we do not have an alternative to ARVs,” she stressed.

Rodoreda commended EHAIA for its initiatives in transformative masculinities, which acknowledge the importance of involving men in ending sexual and gender-based violence.

Bishop Lawson described a youth manual on stigma and discrimination as an important output of EHAIA work. The last session of the meeting was dedicated to adolescents—an important population segment in addressing HIV and AIDS.

This was capped by a public lecture at the St Paul’s University Limuru by Rev. Phumzile Mabizela, executive director of the International Network of Religious Leaders living with AIDS (INERELA+). The title of her lecture was “Adolescents, HIV, Sexual Violence and Sexuality”.

Prior to Mabizela’s lecture, the meeting participants and St Paul’s University community officials planted trees in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of Tamar project. The initiative draws its name from the biblical Tamar, who was raped by her half-brother, consigning her to a life of social exclusion.

Read full text of the public lecture by Rev. Phumzile Mabizela

Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy (EHAIA)

The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 345 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 550 million Christians in over 120 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran] Church of Norway.