Advancements in HIV treatment enabling individuals to live longer and healthier

Reverend Canon Professor Gideon Byamugisha

Advancements in HIV treatment enabling individuals to live longer and healthier

Among delegates attending the 22nd edition of the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) in Harare are people living with HIV and they all have stories to tell.

Among them is Reverend Canon Professor Gideon Byamugisha of Uganda the founding father of the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or personally affected by HIV/AIDS-INERELA.

Reverend Byamugisha became the first African religious leader to publicly declare his HIV-positive status in 2002.

His message is one of openness and unconditional love, acknowledging the role of science for people living with HIV.

“God has given us the science that we need not only to prevent new infections but also to help people live longer productive lives like me, I got to know I was positive in 1992, and in 1998 I started treatment now this is 2023 and my viral load is still undetectable for over 15 years. In that period because of science, I married, after losing my first wife to AIDS, I married another wife who was also HIV positive.

“We delayed having children for seven years but when science came we put it into practice and had two children one is 20 and the other 23, negative so science is available. What is frustrating us from utilising the science is again the stigma and the prejudice and the denial, the discrimination that goes around.

“I warn some churches for example who have taken people off medicine saying that its only prayers that heal but we know very well that everything that heals that promotes life is from God. In my life, I pray as if medicine doesn’t work and I take medicine as if prayers are not available. Both of them are effective.”

Inspired by Reverend Byamugisha, Reverend Maxwell Kapachawo who tested positive for HIV in 2004 founded the Zimbabwean chapter of the Zimbabwe Network of People Living with HIV (ZINERELA) and he says without anti-retroviral treatment he would be dead by now.

To reach the UNAIDS targets of ending AIDS by 2030 faith-based organisations should according to Reverend Byamugisha admit to the reality of AIDS in their midst, do away with judgemental attitudes towards people living with HIV, and instead offer them practical, social, and spiritual support.

“The stigma that connects HIV with morality has not gone down people still confuse HIV with sin yet we have sexual saints that are HIV positive and we have sexual sinners that are HIV negative my HIV status will not tell you my spiritual status and my spiritual status will tell you nothing about my AIDS status so as faith communities we need to work out something better,” he said.

40 years later since the first reported cases of HIV, Advancements in HIV treatment have thus enabled individuals taking and staying on treatment to lead longer and healthier lives with Zimbabwe among the countries which have exceeded the UNAids 95 95 95 prevention targets.

Credit: Abigirl Tembo, Health Editor ZBC NEWS

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