Church Leaders join efforts towards combating HIV/AIDS in the communities

Father Emanuel J Masoud, who is at the forefront  leading the  HIV/AIDS section at the Anglican Church in Zanzibar believes that;  the church has  a  great contribution and  ability to  influence people  on the ground when it comes to ways of reducing or  combating HIV/AIDS. Amref Health Africa Tanzania, through its five-year Afya Kamilifu project which is funded by PEPFAR through the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in Tanzania supports the Anglican Church which is the lead implementing partner in preventing HIV/AIDS in Zanzibar.  Given the respected position of  the church leaders in the society , Mr. Emanuel Masoud    and other  church leaders have developed a very  instrumental strategy  which  involve  facilitators who initiate  various  conversation with the focus to  the  HIV/AIDS issues.  

Emanuel Masoud believe that   creating more awareness and measures to be taken by the society members, HIV/AIDS can be combated. His experience also indicated that, leveraging their influence as church leaders to the communities, most of them will rely on such powerful information as a result changes will be noticed. “We have so far witnessed success when it comes to HIV voluntary counseling and testing. Many people, including men, are turning up for the exercise…. It is really going well, “says Fr Masoud.  

With their headquarters in Mkunazini, this Anglican Church currently operates in five stations. Apart from the Anglican Church,   the project has also engaged the Lutheran church that is located at Mwanakerekwe while the third station is the Tanzania Assemblies of God church which is located at Kariakoo.  The other two churches involved in this project are the Catholic Church located at Shangani and another Anglican Church which is located at Dole. All stations are in Zanzibar.  

While the church leaders implementing through such   approach, Amref is regularly provide onsite support and mentorship.    Religious leaders act as mobilisers during church services on health matters including topic on HIV/AIDS. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic  challenges ,  their efforts has already  avails some remarkable  achievement  which includes; about   1400 people reached with voluntary counselling and testing services since the project  started in April 2020, whereby  742 are  women and 601 . Generally  it is not normal to have such number  for  men to show-up, this  is a very positive result and it encourages since men  are usually  resist  to  voluntarily  go for  HIV testing; Explained Fr. Emanuel.  

The fact that the tests are taken in churches, the process has a high sense of confidentiality between the clients and the service providers. Health services in these stations are provided only on weekends for a one day which seems to be not enough comparing with the demand.  The HIV service provisions have been complemented with checkup for blood pressure and diabetes which attracts many other people. 

Out of 1400 people who tested for HIV, 15 of them were HIV positive and 12 were immediately  enrolled to care and treatment, while the rest (3) have are yet to be reached, follow-up is ongoing. The key message delivered to the congregates is that proper adherence to treatment helps to suppress the virus and reduce the chances of spreading HIV to their partners. 

It is not only the churchgoers that get tested; church leaders that  conducts  mobilization, including priests, clergies, pastors and nuns are  all get tested. This increases the spiritual morality among the congregates. Amref has also trained the church leaders in preparation of encouraging messages (jumbe za matumanini).  More importantly, the program has been able to increase the number of men coming for VCT services, however, they shave one request to the project team and Amref at large,  

“We call upon Amref and other partners to deepen technical training to non-medical staff so we can cover the limited shortage of medical personnel in certain health settings, especially in hard-to-reach rural areas,” concluded Fr Emanuel