The response of the Roman Catholic, Anglican and United Methodist churches to HIV and AIDS in Manicaland, Zimbabwe (1985-2007)
This study focuses on the history of the Roman Catholic, Anglican and United Methodist churches reaction to HIV and AIDS in Manicaland province, Zimbabwe between 1985 and 2005. It attempts to document and analyse what the three so called ‗mainline‘ churches did and failed to do in responding to a new epidemic. The findings that culminated in this work were obtained mainly from primary written and oral sources that were collected between 2009 and 2011. These comprise oral testimonies of Christians from the Roman Catholic, Anglican and United Methodist churches including bishops and lay members of the churches. In addition, information from medical personnel serving at the churches‘ healthcare as well as that from officers serving in the National AIDS Council (NAC) and the Zimbabwe Association of Church-Related Hospitals (ZACH) were incorporated. Primary written sources include statements issued by the church leaders, the synod and annual conference resolutions, the minutes of parish council meetings, the ad clerums, reports by the church HIV and AIDS structures among others. The study establishes that HIV and AIDS, which emerged in Zimbabwe in the early 1980s, definitely affected the church and also seeks to show that the churches‘ reactions in turn had an influence on the epidemic. The state came out to publicly acknowledge AIDS in Zimbabwe in 1985 and two years later the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops‘ Conference became the first ecclesiastical body to issue a statement on HIV and AIDS in 1987. In 1989 the churches issued a collective statement under the Heads of Christian Denominations (HOCD) in Zimbabwe, which publicised their views on the Christian response to AIDS. The messages were largely moralistic in nature and the churches maintained this stance throughout the period of study. However, it has also been established that the church healthcare centres were involved in accessing condoms to people living with HIV (PLHIV) and other members of the public. Throughout the twenty-two years covered by this study the church healthcare system made an impact on the epidemic through offering treatment to PLHIV. The input of the church healthcare system underwent a three phased evolutionary process: the complementary stage between 1985 and 1994, the church paralleling of the state healthcare system from 1995 to 1999, and replacement of the responsibility of the government in healthcare between 2000 and 2007. Generally, the responses have been subdivided into three phases, which were the early years: from 1985 to 1994, the middle years lasting between 1995 and 1999 and finally the later years falling between 2000 and 2007. The individual churches appear to have been involved in responding to HIV and AIDS with the same motive of serving humanity starting with their followers and moving beyond. Within the Roman Catholic Church the intervention such as care of PLHIV and orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) became a national and diocesan priority that witnessed the birth of the Mutare Community Home Care project in 1992. The new initiative grew stronger over the years and expanded from nine to nineteen stations covering the province. The Anglican Church launched its institutional AIDS care initiatives between 1999 and 2006. The main thrust was on training of Anglicans in responding to the epidemic and the establishment of AIDS care and treatment centres in selected rural areas. Within the United Methodist Church, the thrust was on care of orphans and vulnerable children and home-care at the station, circuit and annual conference levels. All the three churches received donor funding for HIV and AIDS interventions and this became important at a time when the state healthcare and welfare systems were unable to provide care and support to people infected and affected by the epidemic. The study argues that indeed HIV and AIDS like other earlier epidemics such as Black Death in Europe and influenza in Southern Africa is a historical phenomenon which received mixed responses from the community including Christians. It brought to light some of the negative reactions such as denial, stigma and discrimination and yet the epidemic also drew in Christian communities, individuals and institutions to show compassion by caring for people affected and infected by HIV and AIDS. At the institutional level bishops were in a dilemma of maintaining the moral teaching of the church on sexuality and yet they were also expected to be flexible in finding practical ways of preventing HIV. There were other dynamics such as culture, which prevented people from using condoms. The church followers made a very essential contribution in mitigating the effects of the epidemic by being the army of caregivers to people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. Despite their unique dedication to caring for AIDS clients, women were the most affected by the epidemic because of the patriarchal nature of the churches and the cultural perceptions of gender and sexuality. It is hoped that the churches will draw on this history to shape future HIV and AIDS interventions.