A nongovernmental group, Nigeria Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV/AIDS (NINERELA+), has said religious leaders fuel stigmatisation against People Living with HIV (PLWHIV).
The National Coordinator of NINERELA+, Amber Erinmwinhe, said this at a dialogue on faith and mitigation of HIV related stigma and right violation in Abuja on Thursday.
She said studies had repeatedly shown that faith congregation contributes to stigma and discrimination in the society.
“We did a survey in 2017 on stigma reduction specifically in faith congregation. The outcomes show the high level of stigma in religious environment.
“Today, while we have devised ways to disarm HIV virus, stigma is now the major killer of people infected with the virus,” she said.
Stigma and discrimination are major hinderances in ending the AIDs epidemic, according to the the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
Studies have repeatedly shown that when HIV-infected people take their treatment correctly, their viral loads become suppressed which makes it almost impossible for them to transmit the virus to others.
But the fear of stigma is creating barriers to accessing HIV prevention, testing and treatment services thus putting lives at risk.
Although Nigeria’s Anti-Discrimination Act of 2014 frowns against the ill-treatment of PLHIV, the ACT is not fully implemented as cases of stigmatisation still go unpunished.
Ms Amber said the organisation had been training religious leaders on ending stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.
“Permit us to say that, while the medical experts and scientist are doing a great Job to end HIV, we are now counting on the Moral authority of religious leaders to end stigma,” she said.
She noted that more work is needed to change the negative narrative of HIV/AIDS in the world.
“There have been improvement over the years but a lot of work is still needed to breach the knowledge gap.
“We need to address the knowledge gap within faith congregation to ensure the passage of right information,” she said.
In his remarks, the Country Director of Christian AID, Charles Usie, said Nigeria’s efforts to reach the 2020 AIDS target were greatly hampered by stigma and discrimination in the society.
He said HIV response in Nigeria had been condemned to a religious affair rather than a social and public health problem.
“Over the years, we have equated HIV to illicit sex and because of that, religious leaders have created an impression that whoever has HIV is immoral and nobody wants to be associated with immorality, being that we are a very religious country,” he said.
He urged religious leaders to make people understand that HIV doesn’t necessarily equate to immorality
“There are other means of contracting HIV apart from sex. Equating HIV to sex is poor Judgement, lack of information and religious have a role to correct that impression,” he said.
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