Nov 122012
 
Canon Gideon Byamugisha

Admitting to being HIV-positive is a daunting task for many; however, standing in the pulpit to confess would even be unthinkable of an Anglican cleric.

When he stands at every podium as he crisscross the globe to deliver his sermon, his is message is that of hope and to create awareness that HIV is a virus, not a moral issue.

But when he jetted to the country last week, the Ugandan global Aids goodwill ambassador in Africa had only one mission; to challenge the religious leaders in Kenya to lead their flock in combating the scourge.

Moral issue

He says that HIV has, for a long time, been taken to be a moral issue, which has contributed to stigmatisation of those already affected, or personally living with the virus.

“HIV is not a moral issue or sin. It is a virus. We have children who are negative. Religious leaders should not misguide their flock,” says the deep voiced cleric.

But driven by a passion for the dignity and rights of all people, especially those discriminated against because of their HIV-positive status, Byamugisha set up an office of health to assist those living with the virus.

Top in his agenda was to create programmes that could lead to reduction of stigma that was eventually accepted by Church of Uganda’s Aids programme.

Rejection

Unaware that the path he chose of disclosing his status was going to raffle feathers both within the church and the flock he was serving, his resolve to fight stigma preoccupied his mind.

“I faced rejection from those who didn’t have the correct information but was embraced by few. I did not blame them but resolved to empower them,” said Byamugisha.

He adds that when he was sent to the Parish, the faithful could not receive Holy Communion from him, until they developed a new way of receiving the communion. They bought many cups so that every faithful could be comfortable.

With the rejection, he took ten years before he married another wife, Pamela with whom he has sired two children both HIV negative, after the demise of his first wife to the virus.

Spreading hope

He argues that HIV and Aids are both preventable and manageable, and calls upon people to spread hope about HIV through peer education, counselling, home-based care, practical help and prayer, pointing to an array of outstanding work with which people can engage.

Byamugisha says that before he knew his status, he was a teacher at the National Anglican College, where he lectured Theology to priesthood aspirants.

He was also happily married and blessed with young daughter-Patience Byamugisha. However, in 1999, the cruel hand of death knocked on his door and snatched him his dear wife Kellen.

Six months after his wife’s untimely demise, his sister in-law broke to him the shocking news that was to change his life forever.

“She informed me that my wife had died of Aids,” he says.

And with that information, Byamugisha, suspected he was also HIV-positive. For four months, the Anglican priest wallowed in dilemma, whether to go for testing or not. But in January 1992, he made up his mind and walked to the nearest VCT, where his worst fears were confirmed.

“I took the news with great disbelief and anger because at that time, HIV was only associated with truck drivers and the sex workers. I decided to live in denial for some time,” the Canon said.

He says he took the sad news in disbelief, anger and pain. But the words of his sister in-law struck deep into his heart and made him have a resolution to break the silence and declare his HIV status.

“We loved you before you got HIV and we will love you even with HIV,” her sister-in-law had told him.

With this simple but terrifying declaration, he broke what may be one of the most important barriers in Africa’s struggle against HIV. The catalyst for his disclosure was to help fight Aids stigma that has been on the rise in Kenya.

RAWLINGS OTIENO

http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/?articleID=2000070519&story_title=Kenya-Cleric-who-fights-HIV-stigma-from-the-pulpit

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