Religious leaders living with HIV establish network in Ghana

Ghana on Tuesday became the 19th African country to recognise religious leaders infected with HIV virus, who have openly declared their status and formed a network to use the Gospel to fight stigmatisation and prevent further infection.

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Dr Angela El Adas, Director-General of Ghana AIDS Commission, called on members of the network to unite in mind and faith to achieve their objective of fighting the pandemic in the religious arena.

She was speaking at the launch of Ghana Chapter of the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (INERELA+), in Accra,

Dr El Adas said “What I have realised is that faith have not been united enough to move the agenda forward and the religious institutions where we ran to take refuge, for safety and protection are the same places that point fingers at us”.

Ghana’s Chapter of INERELA+Gh, chaired by Reverend James Ackon, currently has 27 reverend ministers and their spouses who are HIV positive, aims at equipping, empowering and engaging its members to live positively and openly as agents of hope and change in their faith communities and countries.

Dr El Adas expressed the concern that lack of proper information about HIV and AIDS, which had created fear, restricting people from accessing Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) leading to stigmatisation.

“Knowing the basic facts about HIV and AIDS is very vital for prevention as well as caring and supporting for those infected,” she said.

Dr El Adas called for holistic knowledge and capacity building to equip all and sundry to disseminate correct information about HIV and in addition, help save the lives of many others in society.

She urged religious leaders to consider themselves as coaches, who had access to large teams or masses population.

Dr El Adas said ” the Lord wants you to ensure that his flock is well catered for and guided, therefore do not let the condition in which you find yourself discourage you but forge ahead and fight the good fight.”

Reverend Johnannes Petrus Mokgethi-Heath, Director of Advertisement and Partner Relations, INERELA, Global who is HIV-Positive, based in South Africa, said the African Network of INERELA+ was established in 2002 and inaugurated in 2003.

He said the group is aimed at ensuring that people with HIV and AIDS overcome societal stigma, stimulating faith community responses, influencing policies and service provision.

Rev Mokgethi-Heath said challenges facing INERELA members included stigmatisation against them by their families, society and organisations.

He called on religious bodies to offer positive messages that would give hope to persons living with HIV.

Rev. Mokgethi-Heath said that HIV was a virus and not a moral condition and said people could live positively with the availability of Anti Retroviral Therapy.

Rev. Ackon called for the support and prayers of all and sundry to enable the Chapter to achieve its task.