More than three decades have gone by since the emergence of HIV, which causes AIDS, yet religious leaders in Zimbabwe still find it difficult to sensitise members about condom use or to negotiate safe sex.

Medical experts say unprotected sex has been found to be the major driver of the pandemic, with 90% of infections resulting from such practices. And the problem is affecting almost all age groups, with church members also having a fair share.

Speaking at a workshop organised by Africare in Harare, Freackson Ropi, the Country Director of Union for the Development of Apostolic Churches in Zimbabwe Africa (UDACIZA) said the church needs to be effective in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Ropi said, “Lack of knowledge and awareness programs by churches are fuelling the spread of the disease, there is need to educate the church leaders on issues to do with HIV and AIDS.”

He castigated pastors for remaining silent about the issue and acting as if the disease does not exist.

The workshop dubbed Programme for the Interdenominational HIV and AIDS Dialogue was attended by members of the apostolic sects and other religious groups.

Africare Country Director Paul Chimedza said stigma and discrimination are still widespread in the churches. He added that his organisation has managed to “train pastors to enable a free platform for people to discuss HIV and Aids issues. People are now free to discuss AIDS issues in the church and also organising games to attract youths to come.” 

Since last year, Africare has been doing an outreach programme across the country educating the religious sector about HIV/ AIDS. “I am quite pleased with outreach programmes as we have managed to reach out of 129, 000 individuals,” Chimedza added.

However the efforts of Africare will be stifled by the withdrawal of its donors which came hot on the heels  after the withdrawal of other funding partners such as Doctors Without Borders and the Global Fund  presenting  problems for Zimbabwe’s AIDS sector.