From the Worldwide Faith News archives

FEATURE: Networking and Holistic Approaches to HIV/AIDS in Namibia

From "Frank Imhoff" <>
Date Wed, 26 Feb 2003 09:22:04 -0600

"Healing Influence of Church Community Can Bring about

WINDHOEK, Namibia/GENEVA, 25 February 2003 (LWI) - "I am urging
every Lutheran congregation in Namibia to form its own HIV/AIDS
committee during the year 2003. This is the only way we can
implement our program to combat the AIDS pandemic," said Bishop Dr
Zephania Kameeta of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the
Republic of Namibia (ELCRN). This was his call to the more than
880,000 members of the three Namibian Lutheran churches, which
make up almost 50 per cent of the country's population.

With an HIV prevalence rate of 22.3 percent among its population,
and over 80,000 orphaned children, Namibia is one of the countries
worst affected by the AIDS pandemic, along with Botswana,
Swaziland and Zimbabwe. In some regions, one out of three pregnant
women is HIV-positive. Average life expectancy is expected to fall
from 61 to 40 years by 2005.

"Ignorance, stigmatization and discrimination have long
characterized the attitude of both church and government toward
HIV-positive persons and AIDS patients," says Rev. Angela Veii,
Coordinator for Lutheran Unity in Namibia, who also organizes the
Lutheran churches' AIDS program.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN) with 580,000
members has been running its ELCIN Aids Action Program since
December 2000, and the ELCRN with 300,000 members began its
Evangelical Lutheran Church AIDS Program (ELCAP) in July 2001. The
7,000-member Germa-speaking Lutheran Church in Namibia, does not
have its own program but participates in those of other churches
including taking part in their training seminars.

The current emphasis of the churches' AIDS program is training in
home-based and pastoral care - 130 laypersons have completed the
basic training course. Only by recruiting laypersons and
volunteers can the program be sustainable and remain independent
of outside help, says Veii.

Namibia's Lutheran AIDS programs have a goal to build a network of
village AIDS committees among the 165 congregations in 2003. Using
a holistic approach, the AIDS groups will work in three areas:
patients' home-based care, youth education and practical and
spiritual care for the increasing number of orphaned children.
Veii stresses that "HIV/AIDS work only makes sense when you tackle
the problem from all sides." It is only in this way that
congregations can become effective as 'healing communities' at the
local level - even if we have to do it without money and

The holistic approach is also important, one learns, because
HIV/AIDS education has to go together with developing new morals
about sexual relationships. "Sexuality is still taboo as a topic,"
says the Rev. Hosea Iyambo, Coordinator of the ELCIN's AIDS Action
for the Western Diocese. He explained that women are still in an
inferior position in families and are often exposed to domestic
violence from their husbands, who refuse to use [effective methods
of prevention]. Also, providing active care for AIDS patients and
orphans requires new social networks to be created which are no
longer based exclusively on the traditional African extended
family. The state, church and NGOs, he added, still have not found
a key to bringing about far-reaching behavioral change in
tradition-conscious rural areas.

"Programs which work directly, holistically and locally to combat
the AIDS pandemic," says Veii, "through personal involvement,
immediate experience with AIDS patients and the healing influence
of the curch community, can bring about transformation."

A significantly important factor in the success of AIDS work is
ecumenical cooperation. All three Lutheran churches are founding
members of the Church Alliance for Orphans (CAFO), launched in
November 2002. CAFO unites 11 church organizations in promoting
practical care and trauma healing for orphaned children. "We would
like to create a society in Namibia in which orphans, too, feel
lifted up and supported," said Rev. Dr Henry Platt, CAFO National
Coordinator, at the opening event. Since the traditional African
extended family cannot accommodate all the orphans in its social
welfare network, he said, there are more and more children living
alone, caring for younger siblings, hungry and unable to go to

The difficulties in combating HIV/AIDS are immense. Despite
generous material support from the United Evangelical Mission and
the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission, there are not enough
funds or trained personnel, and there is no administrative
infrastructure. In rural areas there is still a great lack of
awareness about the dangers of infection, and there are neither
television nor newspapers to use in education campaigns, only the

However, there is "good news and bad news," says the Minister for
Health and Social Welfare, Dr Libertine Amathila. After the
release last December of the 2002 AIDS Report for Namibia, she
pointed out some regions in which the rate of new infections has
stabilized or even decreased. Six of the larger towns in Namibia
reported decreases of 3 to 4 per cent for the last 12 months. This
shows, she notes, "that our work is bearing fruit." She believes
this has been made possible by the successful education campaign
carried out in the towns by the government and civil society
together in the past few years.

Along with the schools, the minister considers churches to be the
most important actors in the civil society. Veii adds, "In Africa,
participation from the churches and religious leaders strengthens
the credbility and success of government campaigns. More than 90
percent of Namibians are church members. Even in the most remote
parts of the country, you can find a church and worship services.
So we take our work seriously and work together at all levels."

(By LWI correspondent Erika von Wietersheim, Namibia)

(The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the
Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund (Sweden), the LWF now
has 136 member churches in 76 countries representing over 61.7
million of the 65.4 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 LWF's information service.
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 with acknowledgment.]

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