Aids and TB Unit director in the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, Dr Owen Mugurungi, has hailed the response and cooperation of religious groups in fighting HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe.

Speaking in an exclusive interview after a media roundtable organised by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights in Harare, Mugurungi said the religious groups are working with them on their health programmes especially on HIV prevention.

 “l think we have worked well l would not want to complain about the religious groups or faith based organisations because they have been working with us for some time both in terms of prevention which they feel is critical,”

He said the groups are also championing one of ministry’s critical prevention strategies “preaching abstinence. So we work together very well in that.”

Members of the Apostolic Faith believe in divine healing for all forms of sickness and disease. This message is repeatedly preached to church’s members, encouraging them to obey the message religiously throughout their lives. They are to rely on the holy water (muteuro) and prayers from the church elders to cure illnesses and diseases. It’s tradition that has been handed down from generation to generation within the church.

According to a research carried by Unicef called Apostolic Religion, Health and Utilisation of Maternal and Child Health Services in Zimbabwe: the religious teaching, doctrine and regulations of ultra-conservative Apostolic groups (for example Johanne Marange, Johanne Masowe Sabbath (yeSabata), Madhidha), because of their emphases on faith healing and strict adherence to church beliefs and practices, tend to undermine modern health-seeking or use of modern health services.

Mugurungi said the churches are also having some community based initiatives for home based care which has now been translated to access, to treatment and other health programmes.

“The upcoming denominations are the ones that we have not engaged but we hope to engage them because these new denominations have a big following. We need to work with them so that we stress the most important thing which is prevention and also access of treatment of people living with HIV,” Mugurungi said.

Mugurungi said at least 600 000 people are now accessing treatment, 580 000 are adults while 42 000 are children.

According to the 2010-11 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS), there has been a slight decrease in Zimbabwe’s HIV prevalence since 2005-06. “15 percent of Zimbabwean adults are HIV-positive compared with 18 percent in the 2005-06,” reads part of the report.