Kenyan president drafts churches into anti-AIDS campaign

April 1, 2003

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki has singled out the country's religious leaders for a special role in helping to alleviate AIDS, drafting their support in a new government campaign to fight the lethal disease.

'From your vantage point and [as] an additional vehicle, you can assist the government to win this war,' Kibaki told Christian and Muslim religious leaders gathered March 23 in the capital, Nairobi, where he announced the launch of the campaign. 'It is crucial that those affected are not left to feel lonely or isolated, but [that] the whole country cares for them.' About 700 Kenyans die of AIDS every day.

Since the launch of the campaign, called 'Total War Against HIV/AIDS,' leaders of Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian churches and of the Muslim community have been meeting with the country's health minister, Charity Ngilu, to assist in designing a strategy for the campaign. The government has allocated US$1.06 million of a grant received from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to faith-based groups to be used in caring for AIDS orphans, providing counseling, purchasing medications and engaging in advocacy work. Kenya has also received a US$50 million grant from the World Bank development agency for the fight against AIDS.

Kenyan churches have long been at the forefront of anti-AIDS efforts, providing treatment in church-run hospitals and care for Kenya's 1.5 million AIDS, orphans as well as counseling and education programs. But the previous government, voted out in December 2002, viewed the churches as supporters of the political opposition, and had not backed their AIDS efforts. Kibaki's election ousted the Kenyan African National Union, which had been in power for 40 years.

'If we are not infected we are affected,' said Anglican Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi. 'We are committed to eradicating the virus and reducing the suffering of those affected. As the body of Christ confronted by a disaster of this magnitude, we share the pain of those that suffer,' he said. As part of the government campaign, the Anglican church plans to introduce a new curriculum on AIDS in its theological schools and colleges. Roman Catholic and Anglican churches have stressed abstinence and fidelity as effective ways to arrest the spread of the disease, and have opposed the mass distribution of condoms as a method of AIDS prevention.

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