Concord Times (Freetown)

23 January 2008

Sierra Leone: Religious Leader Says HIV/Aids is Preventable

Freetown — The first religious leader in Africa to have revealed he was HIV-positive Monday said the disease is preventable and manageable if people's faith is translated into actions.

Speaking at a two-day conference themed: 'Stepping up faith leaders response to HIV/AIDS in Sierra Leone', organized by Christian Aid and Promotion of Sexual Health and Education (POSHE), Rev. Cannon Gideon Byamugisha said those who have been tested for HIV/AIDS are afraid to disclose their status.

"I was tested positive in 1992. I was given six months to live by the doctor," he said.

The Ugandan Reverend said partnering with religious leaders would yield multiple dividends in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

POSHE's director, Valerie Tucker said social stigma attached to HIV/AIDS often discourage people infected with the virus and dampen the spirit of those at risk from being tested.

She called upon religious leaders to aggressively reach out and encourage their various communities to prevent the HIV infection and support people living with the disease.

Director of National Aids Secretariat, Dr. Brima Kargbo said HIV/AIDS pandemic has moved from health issue to take a development dimension.

He said combating the disease requires the engagement of all development sectors and full participation of the public.

First Lady, Sia Koroma said the fight against HIV/AIDS requires the efforts of politicians, teachers, AIDS activists and faith leaders to come together and find solutions to the global epidemic.

"The consequences of stigma and discrimination could be devastating at different levels. People are unlikely to get tested for HIV if they thought that they were going to be condemned should they be tested positive," she concluded.

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