Disease Pandemics and Innovations in Care

First published on: 12th October 2020

Disease Pandemics and Innovations in Care

The Rev’d Canon Professor Gideon Byamugisha (the first religious leader in Africa to go public about being HIV-positive) was one of four speakers at USPG’s Partners in Global Mission Webinar, 'Disease Pandemics and Innovations in Care’, on 8 October. Some 80 people attended the webinar, logging in from the UK, Pakistan, the USA, Japan and the guest speakers’ home countries of Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The webinar was chaired by USPG trustee the Rev’d Dr Carlton Turner, and coordinated by USPG’s Research and Learning Advisor Dr Jo Sadgrove.

The Rev’d Gideon held himself up as an example of how successful the Ugandan church’s policy of reducing the stigma associated with being HIV-positive had been. He listed the key contributions the Anglican Church in Uganda had made to the Anglican Communion’s worldwide response to HIV. ‘Our first contribution was to let people know that people with HIV and AIDS should not be stigmatised, shamed and abandoned,’ he said. ‘Our second was to work in partnership with our government.’

The Rt Rev’d Erick Ruwona (Bishop of Manicaland, Church of the Province of Central Africa) explored the role of the Zimbabwean church in response to HIV. Zimbabwe’s first HIV case was reported in 1985, five years after independence when the country was looking forward to prosperity and good health. While the church worked hard throughout the 1990s to get the message home, society’s response was one of denial. ‘Many associated HIV and AIDS with witchcraft or with sexual immorality, and so people were stigmatised,’ he said. ‘We have learnt from our past. With HIV, we took too long to intervene.’

The Rt Rev’d Thomas Wilson, Bishop of Freetown, explained how many Sierra Leoneans’ initial reactions to the country’s Ebola outbreak were similar to some attitudes towards Covid-19 today, with people refusing to accept that it was a real threat. Outlining what the church in Sierra Leone had learnt from its experience with Ebola, he said, ‘An early response with accurate messages and a high degree of preparedness should help to effectively control the spread of epidemics and pandemics.’

The Rev’d Canon Grace Kaiso brought the webinar to a close with an appeal for governments and churches to work together. He said: ‘Governments are responsible for providing a legal framework and creating an enabling legal environment. Our cultures must create a sense of acceptability and our churches must provide an environment of healing. If those institutions work together and play their respective roles, then there can be progress.’

‘This webinar holds critical lessons for churches in Europe and America about the importance of church leadership in matters of public health and as public health communicators,’ Dr Jo Sadgrove said in conclusion. ‘Churches and church leaders have been critical leaders in the public health responses to these diseases as trusted voices with considerable health system infrastructure in many global contexts.’

Speaker presentations:

The Reverend Canon Prof Gideon Byamugisha - HIV & AIDS: The Role Of The Church In Caring For The Communities In Uganda

The Right Reverend Erick Ruwona - Role of the Church in caring for those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe

The Right Reverend Thomas Arnold Ikunika Wilson - USPG DISEASE PANDEMIC AND INNOVATION IN CARE