From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
"How Would I Break the News to My Family?"
"Frank Imhoff" <FRANKI@elca.org>
Wed, 12 Jun 2002 11:33:48 -0500
FEATURE: Living with HIV/AIDS, Looking Ahead
NAIROBI, Kenya/GENEVA, 12 June 2002 (LWI) - With his robust
appearance he could easily pass for a weight-lifter or boxer. He
is neither. An HIV/AIDS counselor, Rowland Lenya has lived with
the HIV virus for 13 years and "is determined to live for many
more years to come," he says. He addressed participants in a
recent Lutheran World Federation (LWF) regional church leadership
consultation on HIV/AIDS challenges.
Lenya, 50, was first diagnosed in 1989 after experiencing a chain
of serious illnesses. "When I went to hospital, the doctor
suggested an HIV test which turned out to be positive. I got
confused and felt like I would die the next minute. How would I
break the news to my family, and especially my wife?" he recalls.
With counseling he slowly began to accept his situation. But it
was traumatic for his wife and five children. Looking back, he
stresses that their support helped him come thus far.
Lenya went public about his HIV status in 1992 after returning
from a conference for People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) in
Madrid, Spain. But it was not easy. "My children were confronted
with all sorts of discrimination and verbal abuse from schoolmates
and friends until they could not attend school, because of the
ridicule they faced," he remembers, adding AIDS was a phenomenon
at that time.
The same year, Lenya and 15 other PLWHA founded The Association of
People With Aids in Kenya (TAPWAK) to address health problems,
share personal experiences and support each other while striving
to create HIV/AIDS awareness among the general public.
Today, TAPWAK is a recognized institution training HIV/AIDS
counselors in home-based care for patients. It runs a drop-in
center that provides information to the public, among other
Lenya, who traces his HIV-infection back to an act of sexual
intercourse, admits facing discrimination and stigmatization from
his former employers, and friends. "Announcing that I was
HIV-positive cost me my job at the bank. I received negative
attitudes from people who had seen me crusading against AIDS. Once
in a restaurant, a person sharing a table with me recognized my
'familiar' face and moved to another table," he relates.
Children Faced Discrimination, Verbal Abuse
Over the years, Lenya has been actively involved in AIDS
activities locally and internationally, raising awareness,
advocating for behavioral change and training PLWHA to conduct HIV
and AIDS education. "I feel I owe the society, this is what I can
He laments that anti-retroviral drugs, meant to reduce chances of
HIV transmission, are prohibitively expensive for the ordinary
patient. The poor, especially in Africa, home to 70 percent of the
40 million people living with the disease have no access to such
medication, he says. According to the Joint United Nations
Programme on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, Kenya has the ninth highest HIV
prevalence rate in the world, with 2.1 million adults and children
living with the disease.
Church Could Be Very Instrumental in Addressing HIV/AIDS
Addressing bishops, presidents, women and youth church leaders
participating in the Pan-African Church Leadership Consultation on
HIV/AIDS in Nairobi, Kenya in early May, Lenya challenged the
church for having remained silent for so long, but noted that it
could be very instrumental in addressing the pandemic. His call
echoed remarks by Rev. Dr. Ambrose Moyo, former bishop of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe, when he addressed
participants on "Breaking the Silence on HIV/AIDS in Africa." Moyo
pointed out that church leaders have a special role to play in the
fight against the deadly disease. "We church leaders need to
change our attitude toward those who are infected. We have to
remove the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, and once that stigma
goes many people will be able to talk freely about their condition
and become allies in the fight against the virus."
The meeting with two participants from Asia and Latin America,
made a commitment, which among other concerns encourages churches
to speak openly about HIV/AIDS and fight all stigmatization and
discrimination against PLWHA.
(By Joyce Mulama, LWI Correspondent in Nairobi, Kenya.)
(The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the
Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund (Sweden), the LWF now
has 133 member churches in 73 countries representing over 60.5
million of the 64.3 million Lutherans worldwide. The LWF acts on
behalf of its member churches in areas of common interest such as
ecumenical relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human
rights, communication, and the various aspects of mission and
development work. Its secretariat is located in Geneva,
[Lutheran World Information (LWI) is the information service of
the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Unless specifically noted,
material presented does not represent positions or opinions of the
LWF or of its various units. Where the dateline of an article
contains the notation (LWI), the material may be freely reproduced
* * *
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