It was indeed a good Friday morning, in Nemakonde, Gutu, Masvingo Province, in Zimbabwe, when 36 leaders out of the 40 apostles from the St Peters Apostolic Church, recently took their first-ever HIV test, led by Bishop Gabriel and Amai Marry Nyamande. Pre-test counseling was done in an interactive manner where questions from the congregants were answered. A further one-on-one session took place to cement individual understanding. Counseling is necessary to allay fears and assure one that results are secret while disclosing results is a choice. The educative engagement ran over three days, with interactive dialogue where INERELA+ Zimbabwe National Coordinator, Elder Carries Paul Juru, Programmes Officer, Venancio Tavarwisa, accompanied by Prof Kudzai Biri, from the UZ Department of Theology enunciated religion, lifestyles, health, with focus on HIV prevention, testing, treatment, care, and support.
The St Peters Apostolic Church leader Bishop Nyamande assured congregants that he was going to disclose his results, with his wife agreeing to do so too, regardless of status. Congregants were not obliged to disclose their results. Those tested ranged from 19 years with the eldest being an 82-year-old grandmother. This was a milestone in the Church’s history and the Nemakonde community of Gutu at large.
The education played a pivotal role in softening the congregant’s stance on HIV testing, seeking early treatment, getting their children vaccinated, and being part of any public health initiatives. INERELA+ Zimbabwe used the SAVE tool kit in promoting good health-seeking behaviour, getting tested, and seeking treatment.
The congregants were thrilled to have a professor visiting them. Prof Kudzai Biri ate, sat, sang, and educated them in interactive group discussions about patriarchy,gender relations. The traditional leadership Piniel Nemakonde welcomed INERELA+ and requested that more churches be sensitized in his village. He expressed that he learned a lot and he was empowered to be a change driver on health and HIV issues.
Leaving no one behind and successfully ending Aids by 2030 requires all hands on the deck. Inclusion is at the core of INERELA+ work.