As the world observed International Aids Candlelight Memorial Day on Sunday May 15, the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa, in Nyanga, in partnership with different organisations, marked the day by encouraging congregants to talk openly about sexual issues and HIV/Aids.
Under the theme Engage, Educate and Empower, the service was also aimed at honouring those who had died because of the pandemic, while dismantling myths and the stigma associated to this disease.
Sabelo Rhasimeni, educator at the Desmond Tutu Foundation, said they felt it was crucial to partner with the church in commemorating the day.
The foundation continuously strives to educate people about HIV/Aids, and on Sunday it presented some of its research findings on other methods that could be used in preventing HIV/Aids.
Mr Rhasimeni said they were delighted that the church encouraged people to talk openly about sex and Aids. He said they also found that people were still reluctant to go for HIV tests, especially men.
He added that some people were afraid to talk openly about their status as they feared exclusion and discrimination from society.
“We are currently working around the clock to find other ways for men that would act as prevention methods of HIV/Aids like this pre-exposure prophylaxis pill,” he said.
Former provincial chairperson of the National Association of People Living with HIV/Aids, Bongiwe Gwedala, told the congregation it was is not a disgrace to be HIV positive.
She said she tested HIV positive in 2004 when she was six months pregnant with her second child. She added that her then boyfriend, who had infected her with HIV, refused to be tested and later left her.
“I was afraid that my child might be infected when they broke the news to me, but through the grace of God she was not infected. I have been living with HIV for 12 years now and I’m healthy.
“In fact, my daughter is the one that reminds me to take the pills. I’m a born-again Christian and it is not a disgrace or shame to live with HIV.
“The fact that you are HIV positive should not give people the right to judge you,” she said.
Church member, Irene Norhwele, said cultural beliefs had deprived them of opportunities to advise their daughters and sons about sexual matters. Culturally it was inappropriate to talk openly about these issues.
“We buy pads for our daughters when they reach the puberty stage, but we don’t inform them about what is happening to their bodies and why they are suddenly growing pubic hair,” she said.
She added that as parents they needed to continuously advise their children about these matters and also listen to them.
Ntombizodwa Wayetile, community developer at Ilitha Labantu, said the discrimination faced by women who had been infected by HIV/Aids needed to stop. She said they were often labelled as people who sleep around. She called on communities to act swiftly and aggressively against the pandemic. “We need to go to other churches as well to preach the same message.
“It is good that this church has taken a strong stand to talk openly about this issue because other churches are still reluctant to talk about this issue,” she said.