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Ugandan cleric urges churches to push governments on AIDS

[Ecumenical News International, Nairobi, Kenya] African churches need to urge governments to do more to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, according to a prominent Ugandan Anglican cleric who was the first religious leader on the continent to declare publicly his HIV-positive status.

"The church is doing something, but if it were enough the pandemic would have gone away. The church has not challenged the governments to put money where the problem is," Canon Gideon Byamugisha, 59, said in an interview with ENInews in Nairobi, where he spoke from Nov. 22-24 on HIV/AIDS prevention.

In a 2001 statement called the Abuja Declaration, African governments pledged to allocate at least 15 percent of their annual budgets to healthcare as part of the fight against HIV/AIDS. Ten years on, most have not met the commitment, although average health expenditures in all 52 African countries increased to 9 percent in 2007 from 8.8 percent in 2001, according to a 2010 report by The Global Fund.

Byamugisha said governments should allocate resources to end stigma, preventable AIDS deaths and related illnesses. "We [churches] have not asked those campaigning for the presidency to show their manifestos on how they propose to engage the disease," said Byamugisha, who co-founded the African Network of Religious Leaders Living with and Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (ANERELA+) in 2002.

"We have not seen archbishops saying, 'Mr. President, we want to see a government budget that allocates money on promoting safe practices,'" he added.

With no single preventive approach for the epidemic, Byamugisha recently began advocating against the shame and discrimination that often affect those with HIV/AIDS and for increased testing. "They get married, and they produce children as if everything is normal. That's the first place to start, if you want to reach zero infection. We must put money in fighting stigma so that people get tested," he said.

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