The Current Impact of HIV/AIDS in Tanzania:
A threat to capacity building within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.
Dr. Peter Iveroth:
former ELCT Health Program DirectorD
HIV/AIDS has taken a catastrophic toll in society, decimating its population, tearing apart the very social fabric of our society and threatening our economy.
It decimates the productive age group: teachers, administrators, public leaders, farmers and church employees among many others. It has caused deterioration in the quality of life and life expectancy. It threatens to reverse the hard-won social and economic gains.
Ultimately, all these effects put the future of the country at stake. For example, many orphans are left behind and the affected people also leave big gaps in their areas of work. In short, the effects resulting from this epidemic at either individual or communal level cannot be measured.
Since the first three cases of HIV/AIDS were reported in Kagera Region, the Ministry of Health estimates that 1.3 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS.
About 150,000 people die of AIDS every year and the number of orphans in the country has increased to about 700,000. This indicates that about 8% of the entire adult population is infected with HIV and may die within the next five years.
The impact of the epidemic is severe and has led ELCT to declare HIV/AIDS as a mission issue in capacity building. ELCT now realizes that with no cure in place, education on preventive methods must be a top priority.
There is also a need of implementing a social vaccine that involves social inclusion and solidarity among Lutheran Mission Cooperation (LMC) members and other stakeholders. LMC is a joint instrument of cooperation of the ELCT and her partners.
For these reasons, the ELCT has renewed its efforts in the war against HIV/AIDS. In order to achieve this, more resources are needed to increase education opportunities for the staff involved toward a stronger HIV/AIDS control program.
Primarily, the church should make its position quite clear about HIV/AIDS where all-church leaders, from bishops to evangelists, will speak openly about it.
Ethical discussions on how to avoid the spreading of infection in society should be promoted.
Information about HIV/AIDS must be integrated into theological and Christian education for children, youth and adults.
Any negative aspects relating to HIV/AIDS such as fear, stigma, ignorance and denial should be addressed at length.
The ELCT should then take care for those already infected as well as those affected by it, e.g. orphans and widows. Good care for the patients and orphans is an important issue for consideration.
The ELCT must also increase its training in counseling amongst medical personnel, pastors and evangelists. Women should also be shown how to reduce their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.
Similarly, society as a whole should consider transformation of gender roles and social structures.
In essence, the ELCT should strengthen its health system that protects groups at risk by formulating and implementing social and labour policies and programs that reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.
It should also stress the importance of documenting and disseminating information and statistical data in order to increase the ability of social partners to address the pandemic in an all-round manner economically, socially and politically.
Finally, in order for the ELCT to mount an effective campaign against the HIV/AIDS crisis and address its multi-faceted implications, the northern partners have a role to play. The LMC must expand its capacity to deal with HIV/AIDS problems, especially providing resources and experts experts from international bodies.
Partnership should also be established among the bilateral and multilateral agencies. Our northern partners should also participate in lobbying activities promoting low cost anti-virus drugs to be available in this part of the world.