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HIV-positive priest in Africa looks to AIDS-free world by 2025
Listening, Learning and Lent

By Fredrick Nzwili
[Ecumenical News International]  Canon Gideon Byamugisha, the Ugandan Anglican priest who became the first known African church leader to declare he was HIV-positive, says the world could be free of AIDS by 2025 if it confronts hurdles like stigma and inaction in dealing with the pandemic.

"I am beginning to see a world free of AIDS," Byamugisha said on March 15 in Nairobi where he was attending a meeting of religious leaders on combating stigma around HIV and AIDS. "With good partnerships we can defeat stigma by 2009. The epidemic can also level off by 2015. We will then be talking of a world free of AIDS by 2025."

But for a global victory over AIDS, Byamugisha said the world must first defeat stigma, shame, denial, discrimination, inaction and wrong actions, which he described as persistent stumbling blocks to the successful control of the pandemic.

The March 15-17 meeting was organized by CARE International and the African Network of Religious Leaders living with or personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (ANERELA+), which Byamugisha chairs.

It also heard Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya restate a church apology to persons infected or affected with HIV/AIDS.

"Where the leaderships of religious groups have worked negatively, we are sorry and we want to walk the journey together with persons living with AIDS, to bring healing ministry to the people. We repent for misaction and inaction," Nzimbi said.

ANERELA+ now has 1,300 members, but Nzimbi said it was still difficult for religious leaders to state openly that they were HIV-positive.

"We are saying HIV/AIDS is not a group specific," said Nzimbi. "We are urging people in leadership to come out and declare their status. This would be very encouraging and as a bishop, I am ready to walk with them."