South Asian Churches resolve to revive, strengthen HIV and AIDS ministries in region

Posted on 6 December 2021

The Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) together with the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) organised a four-day Sub-Regional Consultation on ‘South Asian Churches Engagement with HIV and AIDS: Discerning Signs – Working Towards Informed Responses’ from 25–28 November 2021.

The South Asia Sub-Regional Consultation, which was organised online, was attended by 27 participants such as clergy, healthcare practitioners, and social activists from the CCA’s member churches and councils in the subregion—Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. The resource persons of the consultation included representatives from different faith-based organisations, churches’ medical missions, PLHIV (People Living with HIV) organisations, as well as UNAIDS.

The NCCI General Secretary Rev. Asir Ebenezer welcomed the participants and expressed gratitude to the CCA for organising and facilitating the four-day programme. He further added that it was important for the church to return to HIV ministries to cater to people with HIV through the full gamut of interventions.

The keynote address was delivered by Rev. J.P. Heath, Policy Advisor on HIV, Human Sexuality, and Theology, Church of Sweden, and Co-founder of the International Network of Religious Leaders Living With or Personally Affected by HIV (INERELA+). He highlighted the challenges of the inability of the Church to deal more positively with sex and sexuality, which associated AIDS with sin, stigma, and ultimately, death.

The session on ‘Mapping the Context of HIV in South Asia’ was delivered by Dr Salil Panakadan, Regional Advisor, UNAIDS Asia and Pacific Regional Support Team. He recommended building competencies and increasing engagement with vulnerable communities through innovative approaches (such as virtual interventions as was done during the COVID-19 pandemic), as the gains made could be lost and progress further stalled if national/stakeholder commitments waned.

A panel discussion on ‘Exploring a relevant theology on HIV and AIDS for our times’ saw discussions among three speakers, Dr Zohmangaihi Rokhum from the Tahan Theological College, Myanmar, Rev. Dr Among Jamir, Nagaland Baptist Church Council, and Aneleh Fourie-le Roux, Executive Director, Christian AIDS Bureau for Southern Africa (CABSA). The session was moderated by Lalbiakhlui (Kuki) Rokhum, Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief (EFICOR).

Dr Rokhum proposed a “living theology”, a theology of wholeness that was people-centred, proclaimed the fullness of life rather than the fear of death, and was restorative and healing.

Rev. Jamir described a “theology of the body” where the experiences of the body needed to become ‘theological texts’ in and of themselves.

Ms Fourie-le Roux talked about the Channels of Hope course which “was not a new theology but goes back to core messages of the Bible” and “rephrased Biblical truths”.

The presentation on ‘Key Issues in the Context of Corona’ was delivered by Loon Gangte, Regional Coordinator, ITPC-South Asia, who shared three main challenges faced by PLHIV during the COVID-19 pandemic: namely the compromise to their physical health given the interruptions to ART (anti-retroviral) treatments and adherence, losses of livelihoods, and severe mental stress and trauma.

A panel discussion on ‘Gender and Sexuality and Vulnerability in the context of South Asia’ was led by church and civil society movement leaders.

Santa Khurai, an indigenous transwoman, from Solidarity and Action Against the HIV Infection in India (SAATHII), said that indigenous alternate sexualities were “lost in translation” when trying to be included within the spectrum of the LGBTQ community and that such misnomers affected allocations of funds and other resources for indigenous empowerment.

Dr L. Ramakrishnan from SAATHII identified the lag between legal and social change and shared that although certain legal verdicts in the region were positive and in favour of the LGBTQ community, they had had little bearing on social attitudes and did not transform the dominant cis-hetero-patriarchal society.

Rev. Manu Abraham from the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church in India shared the experiences of the Navjeevan Centre in Mumbai, India, which was established by the Mar Thoma Church for women exploited for commercial sex and for their children.

Rev. Emmanuel Koilpillai from the Church of South India spoke about the ongoing work with HIV and the trans community in Vilipuram, India.

The session on ‘Church Responses to HIV: Examples from South Asia’ saw three presentations.

Dr Priya John, the General Secretary of the Christian Medical Association in India (CMAI), talked about the responsibility of the CMAI in providing access to relevant and affordable medical care among the community, which was done through capacity-building and training of healthcare professionals, setting-up of information centres and community-based care centres, waste management training, and coordinating with national AIDS bodies and other NGOs.

Dr Vijay Aruldas, from Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, India, shared the lessons from years of experiences in the field. He narrated instances of supportive interventions carried out by different churches in India.

Dr R.L. Sanghluna from the Mizoram Synod, Presbyterian Church of India, shared the model of the Synod hospital in Mizoram that provided special services for PLHIV and also adopted a multi-stakeholder approach and intervened with different segments of the community such as children, youth, women and men, and the elderly for coordinated responses to HIV.

The final session on ‘Understanding model approaches and their relevance in Asia: SAVE Approaches’ was conducted by Rev. Carlene Nomorosa from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP). Rev. Nomorosa introduced the SAVE (Safer practices, Access to treatment, Voluntary Counselling and Testing, and Empowerment) approach to the participants. Developed by INERELA+, the model was a response to the need for a more comprehensive approach to addressing HIV and provided religious leaders and other HIV practitioners with necessary tools and strategies.

In the concluding session, Dr Mathews George Chunakara, the CCA General Secretary, shared ongoing initiatives of the CCA in the Asia region over the years, including interfaith initiatives to counter the epidemic. He also lauded the commitments of South Asian church leaders, and other key representatives, to the mission of renewing and fortifying existing HIV and AIDS networks.

The participants of the four-day Consultation developed plans of action which included increasing training and capacity-building programmes, identifying gaps and funding concerns, promoting research, facilitating networking, furthering interfaith collaborations, and engaging with national and international organisations. The participants also developed a Commitment, which reaffirmed commitments to revive and strengthen vigorously ministries pertaining to HIV and AIDS. It emphasised placing PLHIV at the centre of holistic ministries, offering churches and their competencies for the care, protection, upliftment, and empowerment of PLHIV, practicing stigma- and judgement-free theologies, bolstering interfaith action, exploring more avenues of cooperation with existing government and secular programmes, and partnering with global initiatives to meet 2030 targets.

  • Call US NOW

  • +66-53-243-906
  • Find Us On

© 2022 Christian Conference of Asia. All rights reserved.Privacy Policy