The Blantyre CCAP Synod has expressed worry over the rate of HIV infection in the Southern region, expressing hope, however, that the problem could be stemmed if married couples exercised faithfulness.
The Malawi Demographic and Health Survey (MDHS 2010) indicates that the Southern region has the highest HIV prevalence rate at 15 percent, followed by the Central region, 8 per cent, and the Northern region at 7 per cent.
These statistics are also reflected in the 2012 ‘AIDS Response Progress Report for Malawi’, submitted to the 2011 United Nations General Assembly Political Declaration to achieve: Zero new HIV infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS Related Deaths for the period spanning from January 2010 to December 2011.
However, the report said a study on multiple concurrent partnerships found that religiosity per se was not associated with abstinence and mutual faithfulness.
“The most important component of religion on sexual behaviour was the content of religious teachings and monitoring sexual behaviours of members. The study also found that 95 per cent of religious institutions privately advised members to refrain from promiscuous behaviour and 50 per cent conducted sexual surveillance on its members; thus religious institutions could be critical in reducing high risk sexual behaviour,” the report reads in part.
Blantyre CCAP Synod General Secretary, Rev. Alex Benson Maulana, said the issues of HIV and Aids had affected the church, and stretched its resources as it tried to cater for the spiritual and physical needs of people.
Maulana said the Synod had responded to the need for more health services in the face of HIV and Aids by establishing the synod’s Development and Health Commission (BSHDC) in 2009.
“We need to offer hope to these people. Let’s not disappoint those living with HIV and Aids. We also need to encourage pregnant women who are in the dark about Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission to go for VCT.
“At the same time, we need to protect those who are HIV negative. The church is not just there to teach people; it has to lead by example, and can raise hope by avoiding stigma and discrimination,” Maulana said.
Maulana said the synod was concerned with the rate of infection in the Southern region, and was doing all it could to compliment government efforts.
“Let me thank the government for introducing life-prolonging drugs. This has reduced the number of funerals. God used the government to put in place the ARVs scheme, and I would like to urge President Joyce Banda to continue with the programme. ARVs have given people the peace of mind.
BSHDC Gender, HIV and AIDS Manager, Ulanda Mtambo, said it was worrisome that most of the people living with HIV were from the Southern region, which is the domain of the Blantyre CCAP Synod. She, however, said the situation could be reversed.
She said the fact that only 2.1 percent of people between 15 to 24 years were infected was an indication that the problem could be stemmed.
“While it is also unfortunate that HIV prevalence is also high among married couples, we can help reduce such incidences by promoting faithfulness among married people,” Mtambo said.
BSHDC Communications Officer, Jessie Puwapuwa, said, however, that the Synod does not have specific data on HIV prevalence rate among the CCAP Blantyre Synod faithful. She said, instead, the commission utilizes National Aids Commission (Nac), BRIDGE 11, and MHDS statistics.
According to the MDHS (2010), HIV prevalence among people who have never married is at 4.2 percent, at between 11.7 percent and 11.5 percent among people who are married or living together, between 20.7per cent and 24.8 percent among divorced and separated people, while the rate among widowed people is at 50.1 percent.
National Aids Commission statistics indicate that about one million people are living with HIV in Malawi, while 350, 000 people are on ARVs.