Meeting the Challenge with God on Our Side: Churches and Faith-Based Organizations Confront the AIDS Pandemic in Namibia

Article excerpt

Abstract

In Southern African countries that are heavily affected by HIV and AIDS, churches play a significant role in the provision of medical treatment, prevention education, home-based care, and orphan support services. Churches provide facilities, local leadership, volunteers and strong theological concepts that are consonant with local cultural values of neighbours helping each other. However, this foundation must be nurtured and extended to meet long-term demands imposed by the HIV pandemic, as well as some of the underlying causes that promote the spread of HIV, e.g. poverty, alcoholism, and domestic violence. Volunteers, too, must receive training and support in order to provide quality-based services and not burn out. This article draws on the Namibian experience to describe the development of church-based services related to HIV and AIDS, and to cite lessons learned for the future.

Introduction

Outside the work of government and the direct support provided by the extended family, the Christian church plays the most significant role in the provision of health care, health education and social services to the people of Southern Africa. By Christian church, I am including Christian-affiliated hospitals and health care clinics, faith-based organizations (FBOs), and the work undertaken by local congregations at community-level.

Similarly, as we examine the inter-relationship of faith, health and healing, we find ourselves drawn to theological constructs, and personal witness through the church that testify to the experience of individual healing (physically and spiritually), and to the role of the church, as a collective body, working to create the conditions that foster community health and ameliorate the plight of those who are already suffering.

Cursed be he who violates the rights of the alien, the orphan, or the widow (Deut. 27:19). (2)

Using Namibia in Southern Africa as a case example, this article focuses on the latter issue, viz. community-based groups that are sponsored by the church, and that provide prevention education, treatment, care and support to people who are infected or affected by HIV and AIDS. Unless otherwise specified, I use the terms "churches", "local congregations", and "faith-based organizations" (FBOs) interchangeably, when referring to programmes and organizations that are tied to, or have grown out of, a church affiliation, and that remain motivated by values and beliefs inherent in both scriptural teaching and the local community. Similarly, in referring to both HIV and AIDS, I am referring to the same disease, albeit at different stages of infection. (3)

My sources come from various research studies and personal experience doing faith-based AIDS work in Namibia since 1997, first through my work as founding national co-ordinator for Catholic AIDS Action (4), then as co-founder and chairperson of the board at CAFO (The Church Alliance for Orphans) (5), and now as senior technical officer for faith-based programmes at Family Health International. (6 7)

Do right, love goodness, and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

Background

Of all HIV-infected people 95% now live in the developing world, which has likewise experienced 95% of all deaths from AIDS to date. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to dwarf the rest of the world on the AIDS balance sheet. In Namibia, almost one in five pregnant women is infected. Because infections are clustered in families, occupations and certain geographical areas, whole families and villages are being wiped outs. HIV does not discriminate according to gender, wealth, race or age. Overall, however, we know that women are more vulnerable to infection than men, (9) the poor are more vulnerable than are the rich, (10) and most communities regard alcoholism, which breeds both domestic violence and HIV infection, as the biggest contributing factor. (11)

Not much is known about the extent of the pandemic within religious communities. …