Faith-based initiatives on HIV/Aids backed by Bishop’s research

Jun 1, 2017 by

Abstinence and Marital Fidelity reduce HIV/AIDS infection by 80% in Zambia.

Church of England Newspaper.

300 million health workers will be needed over the next decade to care for the health needs of the world’s population. Current modes of training will only produce 30 million. So we cannot go on as we are. This was one of the findings of a seminar and discussion at St Catherine’s College Oxford on May 24 convened by Mr Ashok Handa, Associate Director of Clinical Studies for Oxford Medical School.

Bishop Joshua Banda, presiding Bishop of the Assemblies of God Churches in Southern Africa and chairman of the National Aids Council of Zambia reported on his doctorate research on the impact of clinic support and Christian discipleship training on populations at risk of HIV/AIDS. On any one weekend 60% of the 16 million population of Zambia, roughly the size of France, are in church, under a tree, in a classroom or church building.

Dr Banda began his research when as a pastor he was taking five funerals a week, far more than normal. He called for Bible Studies for church members that focused on people’s relationship with God and 250 people attended. People began to disclose their HIV status and the church established the Circle of Hope Family Care Centre in 2005. He undertook his evidence based research in response to a challenge at a United Nations meeting that faith-based initiatives being supported by George Bush were only propaganda. He expressed surprise that those seeking to reduce the stigma of HIV/AIDS were happy to stigmatise faith communities.

Dr Banda convened 24 Life Transformation seminars over 12 weeks of one hour each incorporating key tenets of the Christian faith. They did not focus on issues of sexuality or safe sex, though HIV related matters emerged during discussions. The main research questions were i) is a person’s sexual behaviour influenced by their attitude and behaviour towards God, ii) what are the factors that affect a person’s sexual behaviour and iii) does attendance at a church’s HIV/AIDS programmes cause a change of behaviour in a person’s sexual relationships?

His research over ten years showed that those who attended such sessions were 4.1 times more likely to report that they had adopted new behaviour to live positively than the randomly selected control group of 135 people who did not attend the sessions.  The causal links were often linked to reducing the imbibing of alcohol and to marital faithfulness or abstinence if unmarried. Church congregations have immense comparative advantage to influence sexual behaviour through the churches’ presence in the community. Relational factors help people to sustain adherence and to feel accountable to sustain their behaviour pattern. Morally based interventions such as abstinence and marital fidelity show significant impact on sexual behaviour change. They have potential to arrest new infections and turn the tide of HIV/AIDS as the tested models are replicable, sustainable and scaleable.

This research done through the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, was examined for a doctorate by a leading world authority on HIV/AIDs, Dr Ted Green of Harvard who stated that such a programme could reduce the cost of arresting the spread of AIDS by billions of pounds compared with ‘safe sex’ and condoms. Dr Green has written: “There is need for a paradigm shift in order for actions to refocus on ‘prevention and behavioural AB (Abstinence and Behaviour) efforts’ and need to note evidence of studies showing that ‘the trend in Africa is towards higher levels of monogamy and fidelity and it is likely that HIV [infections] trend will eventually be downward.“

The research can be examined on Middlesex University/ Our Research/ Open Access / Joshua Banda.

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