International network for HIV-affected religious leaders

"Religious leaders living with HIV face double the stigma, double the discrimination," said Reverend J P Heath, an Anglican Priest from Johannesburg, South Africa, who tested HIV positive 11 years ago.

He said that INERELA is an agency of religious leaders – lay and ordained, women and men – living with, or personally affected, by HIV.

The stigma always arises with the association that HIV comes from "immoral sex" with many forgetting that people could contract diseases through a blood transfusion from an infected person, during a surgery through infected syringes and when an individual comes in contact with infected blood.

"I have always been asked how I contracted HIV," said the priest and those posing the questions always raising doubts over his integrity and character.

"However, the biggest stigma faced by a religious leader was 'self stigma' the fear is that you will be rejected," Heath, here to attend the two-day interfaith meet on HIV, said.
Heath went on to elaborate how after hearing about his HIV positive status his Bishop advised him that he should not let others know about it.

But refusing to be silent, Heath explained how he went about creating awareness about HIV before revealing his condition to his congregation.

INERELA, works with various countries in Africa and also countries like India, has advocated the SAVE programme which refers to treating HIV/AIDS in a holistic manner.
The SAVE complements the ABC principle of Abstain, Be Faithful, Use a Condom, by providing additional information on prevention, care and treatment, Heath said.
Empowerments is crucial in prevention as often women had no right to negotiate on sexual matters in marital life. Targeting migrant workers, youth and those in high risk group was important in the programme.

Aggressive intensive awareness programme for the next 40 years was necessary to stem the disease, he said.AIDS awareness must begin as young as 10. The target is to talk about sex in a positive manner as negative talk always makes youth rebellious, he said.

Making treatment available for those affected is paramount to reducing risk of spreading the infection, he said.

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