Churches Espouse Contraceptives in War On Aids

( [email protected] ) Nov 12, 2003 09:58 AM EST

In a bold move that contradicts the conservative stand taken by most churches Africa, World Alive Ministries, a Pentecostal church, has revealed that it is now giving condoms to HIV-infected couples, through its Intervention Counselling and Care (ICOCA) project.

George Kukhala, field officer for ICOCA, has however, stated that the condom distribution project strictly targets couples, pointing out that the youth are only encouraged to abstain until they enter into marriage.

"We know there is still a strong stand by other churches against the use of condoms. While they have negative attitude, we look at the initiative positively," said Kukhala.

Another Pentecostal church, the Salvation Army, has launched a campaign to discourage their faithful from engaging in some cultural practices and beliefs that could promote the transmission of HIV/AIDS. They are also providing condoms to members.

Some ethnic groups still conduct a sexual ritual known as kuchotsa fumbi, which involves forcing young boys and girls to have sex as a way of introducing them to the "adult world", soon after graduating from cultural initiation rites.

In other communities, a widowed woman has to engage in a sexual intercourse with a selected man, supposedly to ebb away misfortunes, before she is allowed to re-marry. The practice is called kulowa kufa.

Considering the danger of these persistent traditions, which violate the rights of women and children, and put them to risk of contracting HIV, the Salvation Army encourages condom use.

Said Ephraim Maida, a volunteer supervisor on an HIV project of the church, recently: "At first, followers resisted the move, but now they can understand. As a church, we have a duty to empower our members physically and spiritually."

The Roman Catholic church, unlike the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP), which recognises condom use by couples and encourages abstinence among the youth, is still not comfortable with the idea.

When a reporter recently solicited a comment from Fr Robert Mwaungulu, spokesman for the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, a Catholic bishops forum, the response was terse and marked with apprehension. "The matter is too sensitive to be discussed on the phone," said Fr Mwaungulu.

The Moderator of the Blantyre Synod of CCAP, Rev. McDonald Kadawati, said they had no problem with making condoms available to couples, if it meant saving lives.

"But we differ on the issue of the church being at the forefront, distributing them. As for couples, they can make private arrangements to get the condoms, and not the Church," he pointed out.

The latest developments suggest that a number of churches are pulling out of an earlier declaration by the faith community in Malawi.

Through an HIV/AIDS faith community task force, religious groups unanimously resolved to put in place a policy banning promotion of condoms on radio, television, newspapers, and public posters.

The move created fear that efforts by government and other institutions to stem the spread of the disease was going to be frustrated.

Meanwhile, the northern region of Malawi's Livingstonia Mission of the CCAP is distributing nevirapine, an antiretroviral drug, to HIV positive mothers in order to reduce mother to child transmission of HIV.

Deputy secretary general for the synod, Rev Ted Mwambira, said that previously, mothers had to travel all the distance to Lilongwe, the country's capital in the central region, to get the drugs.

"The programme has seen more women coming for voluntary HIV testing, which was sparsely patronised before," said Mwambira.

About 10 percent of Malawi's population is said to be infected with HIV. The virus has so far led to the death of more than 500,000 lives since 1985, when the first case was reported.