BY JOHN PONTIFEX
THE CATHOLIC Church has helped Zambia to turn the Corner in the fight against HIV and done so without compromising on its traditional teachings.
Fr Alick Banda told how Catholic-run schemes to combat HIV had been vital in bringing about a long-awaited downturn in the number of people infected with the virus.
But the priest hit out at his country's government, saying it had "disappointed the people of Zambia" by not taking action over the crisis for 15 years.
HIV is at epidemic levels in Zambia, where an estimated 12 million people are infected out of a population of 11 million. It is thought that every
family in the country has had at least one member come down with the virus, often with fatal consequences. •
In an interview with the charity Aid to the Church in Need, Fr Banda said the Church had tackled the crisis by distributing anti-H1V medicine and had successfully taught abstinence by integrating Aids awareness into catechetical programmes.
• Fr Banda, from Zambia's copper belt, described how his diocese of Ndola has a hospital and a string of health centres which provide antiretro viral drugs for those at risk from HIV.
The priest went on to praise the Church's "Home Based Care" programmes where workers teach small groups about the dangers of some African customs, including the practice of newly widowed women sleeping with the member of the family who has inherited her husband's estate.
With a thriving community of lay leaders, the Church has devised youth catechetical programmes in which the risk of HIV is spelled out, especially in relation to casual sex.
Church leaders encourage people getting married to have HIV-related tests first and, for victims of the virus, the bishops are devising plans for a "farm" a centre providing accommodation, welfare support and medication.
"Of late, we have at last begun to sec a bit of prowess," said Fr Banda. "The numbers of people infected with HIV have not been going up and because of the campaign we are carrying out to tackle the problem, the numbers are finally coming down."
Fr Banda stressed the importance of the Zambian bishops' opposition to contraception and insistence on abstinence.
He said: "We have some NGOs saying that people should use condoms but the problem with that is that condoms give people some lee-way for casual sex. In actual fact, it encourages the problem."
Criticising the government, Fr Banda said that only in the last three years had the government begun to "talk" about the problem.
"The government were trying to downplay the severity of the disease," he said.
"When I was in the semi
nary many years ago, our bishops were raising awareness of the risks but the government was ignoring the problem.
"Now it has become very difficult to control the epidemic. The government has disappointed the people of Zambia.
"The people of Zambia had been told of dreadful diseases that are sexually transmitted but many of them have not paid attention."
The priest, who is chancellor of Ndola diocese, stressed the importance of faith in action. He said: "We cannot just preach about the gospel and talk about the Mass, without living it.
"It becomes difficult to live the gospel and to preach it, if we don't connect with the problems of our times."