The efforts to keep HIV at bay cannot be sustained when the messages around the disease are not understood the same across the board. It is for this reason that the HIV-Free Northwest is leaving no stone unturned to share new findings with community stakeholders who can also carry the same messages down to the grassroots. November 17, 2023, was the turn of some 13 Pentecostal pastors and 14 other healthcare workers including doctors.
Opening the one-day workshop at the Conference Hall of Nkwen Baptist Hospital, the representative of the NW Governor congratulated the religious leaders for coming on board to join hands in the fight against HIV. He said the workshop was a timely preparation for this year’s World AIDS Day (WAD) that centers on the objective of the current workshop which is Undetectable = Untransmissible (U=U).
The Governor’s representative challenged participants to henceforth preach the message of U=U, which means people with undetectable HIV viral load have the freedom to get married because they have low chances of transmitting the virus. The representative of the State educated the pastors on the legal implications of interfering in the marriage decisions of couples because one of them is HIV positive.
“Marriage counseling should not become an advice. Simply tell the couple the implications of living with an HIV partner and allow them to make their independent decisions,” the state official warned. He used the occasion to advise the Pentecostal pastors to be sure that their churches are duly legalized because that is the beginning point of verification in case of any eventual.
The representative of the NW Regional Delegate of Public Health, for his part, highlighted the objectives of the workshop which included among others; to harmonize understanding in the management of people living with HIV, establish a platform for collaboration between religious leaders and healthcare workers against HIV and AIDS, and to build the capacity of religious leaders on the basics of HIV diagnosis, treatment and follow up. To corroborate the Governor’s representative, Dr. Ambe Leo presented the protocol guiding counseling paramount among which are confidentiality and non-interference in the medical decisions of clients.
The workshop lessons admonished the pastors to counsel and support people living with HIV in their churches to stay on treatment even when they attain the U=U status. The lessons included: Generalities on HIV and AIDs and Benefits of ART with emphasis on U=U by Dr. Franklin, Faith Healing and Orthodox Medicine by Dr. Chiabi, and Addressing Stigma in the Context of HIV by Dr. Nkome.