Ezéchiel Manirakiza SJ
The crucial role that religions play in the struggle against HIV/AIDS in Burundi came to the fore during a training workshop recently organised for religious leaders in two provinces. The workshop sought to improve both the way local religious leaders play this role and their unity in this important struggle.
The focus of the workshop, which took place in Bubanza province from 3 to 5 July 2012, was the holistic SAVE approach to HIV prevention as well as counselling techniques. Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, Pentecostals, and Muslims from Bujumbura-City and Bubanza provinces attended, among them Fr Désiré Yamuremye SJ and Ezéchiel Manirakiza SJ. Fr Désiré is director of the Service Yezu Mwiza, a Jesuit AIDS programme in Burundi.
Aster Nitunga, principal adviser of the Governor of Bubanza province, opened the workshop. He acknowledged that the state owes much to different religions in the struggle against AIDS and invited participants to increase their efforts to help people change their behaviour vis-à-vis sexuality as well as stigmatisation and discrimination of people infected or affected.
The workshop was organised mainly by the Anglican Church, through its secretary and planner, André Bizoza, who is also coordinating a project to set up an interreligious network against HIV/AIDS and for health promotion in Burundi. The workshop proved to be an occasion to reinforce the union between different religions in the struggle against AIDS as well as other humanitarian problems. During his closing speech, Nitunga underlined the spirit of unity that had characterised the workshop throughout its activities, including daily prayers.
The workshop participants welcomed the new and helpful insights offered by the SAVE approach to HIV prevention – a method used for sure to save lives from HIV.
The workshop animators, Nathan Ndayiziga and Mathias Nkurunziza, both Anglican pastors, explained that SAVE goes a step further than the usual prevention approaches, which presume that the only way in which HIV is transmitted is through sexual intercourse. The SAVE approach also looks at other routes of transmission – blood and mother-to-child – and insists on safe practices, screening, treatment and empowerment of those at risk, thus building on and completing other prevention perspectives.
The wider meaning of the SAVE approach may be spelled out as follows:
· S=safe practices, including the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the virus and safe blood.
· A=access to treatment including, for instance, medicines against opportunistic diseases, ARVs and balanced nutrition for people living with HIV.
· V=voluntary testing and counselling.
· E=Empowerment of people, families or communities infected and affected by AIDS. This empowerment comprises spiritual, social, economic, educational, technological and political support.
During the workshop, religious leaders were called upon to integrate the SAVE approach in their work immediately in order to defeat, if not entirely eradicate, AIDS in our families, communities, churches, and country.
However, AIDS is not easy to defeat as long as people do not change their behaviour vis-à-vis the obstacles to its eradication. These were defined as stigma, shame, denial, discrimination, inaction and mis-action. Apart from just teaching people, well-done counselling is necessary to carry out the SAVE approach.
At the end of the workshop, we could read joy and satisfaction on the faces of participants. We were happy to be given tools that will help us, whether Christians or Muslims, in teaching our faithful in order to stop, with them, the dissemination of HIV and eradicate AIDS with all its effects.