SOUTH AFRICA: Religious leaders warn about HIV during World Cup

June 9, 2010

A group of African Christian and Muslim leaders is warning of increased vulnerability to HIV infections during the soccer World Cup in South Africa which runs for a month from June 11.

The world soccer extravaganza is coming to Africa for the first time, and the religious leaders want governments to help commercial sex workers and their clients to protect themselves against HIV during the event.

"When you add a whole group of men, plus lots of free time and lots of liquor together it makes an explosive combination," said the Rev. Jape Heath, an HIV-positive South African Anglican priest. He is a co-founder of the African network of religious leaders living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS.

"We know from past experiences under these circumstances that people get engaged in sex work and look for sex workers," Namibian-born Heath, whose group is known as ANERELA+, had told ENInews in Nairobi. The faith leaders have called for intensified services to stop the possible spread of infection.

"We need to make sure that there are counseling centers, support environment and condoms are made available," said Heath during an interview at the end of a May 17-18 meeting of faith leaders, national aids councils, country interfaith councils and NGOs.

The leaders from Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan and Uganda had met under the umbrella at the Global Working Group on Faith SSDDIM and SAVE. The two latter acronyms stand for Shame, Denial Discrimination, Inaction and Mis-action, and Safer Practices, Available Medical Interventions, Voluntary Counselling and Testing and Empowerment.

They want governments to intervene against child trafficking which they warned would increase with the World Cup.

At the meeting, the Rev. Gideon Byamugisha, an Anglican priest who became the first known African religious leader to announce his HIV-positive status, said, "We need to ask ourselves, why is it that a preventable and a manageable infection continues to kill people at a time when we know so much about it and have much to defeat it."

He added that it was surprising the world carries on as normal despite 7,400 global daily infections and 5,500 deaths linked to HIV.

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