STATEMENTS by religious leaders play a key role in building a positive society for other human beings, especially those with disabilities and HIV / AIDS victims.
Therefore, the time has come for the National Council of People Living with HIV AIDS in Tanzania (NACOPHA), the Tanzania Commission for Aids (TACAIDS) and religious leaders (Bishops and Sheikhs) to discuss how best they could work together to end stigma in the country.
The call was made by Rev. George Pindua of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) Kilakala Congregation, during a one-day zero discrimination programme held in Dar es Salaam.
He said since religious leaders were given great privilege of caring for their believers, as a religion it is easy for them to build positive attitude.
“We have been given the responsibility to take care of them… so our statements bear an opportunity to guide them, and this is entirely possible for every leader to bear the responsibility of directing patients to take medication and others to stop stigmatising them,” noted Rev Pindua.
He noted further that those living with HIV/ AIDS should not be stigmatised or humiliated but should be supported and involved in all social development activities.
Rev Pindua said if the religious leaders fulfill their responsibilities, the government had a key role to play in providing them with timely access to drugs and facilities.
He called on the government to take action against health care providers who use rude language to patients, causing patients to become fearful.
“One thing the government has done well is accessing ARVs without stigma. What we are asking for is for the service providers at these facilities to have polite language and make patients feel safe when they go to take the drugs,” said Pindua, adding that they should see the patients as people who need help.
The chairman of the National Muslim Council of Tanzania, Sheikh Khamis Mataka said harassment was an unacceptable act in Tanzanian society, as it forbids human beings being despised.
He reminded the community to live with people living with HIV (PLHIV) by valuing and respecting them as they are human beings like others.
NACOPHA board member, Shamila Ibrahim said discrimination and stigma in the community still exists, and called on the government to work together to end the stigma.
She thanked USAID and other donors who continue to support NACOPHA in providing education and striving to eradicate stigma in Tanzanian society.
Oh her part, Deputy Minister, Prime’s Minister Office (for the Disabled), Ms Ummy Nderiananga, called on the community not to stigmatise HIV / AIDS victims, but to enable them to fully participate in implementing Tanzania’s industrial policy because they are able to work like others.
She said getting infected does not mean death, because if a victim follows the advice of health professionals, he/ she will continue to live longer and participate in building the nation.
“The government has been working with various stakeholders to ensure that victims are not isolated, discriminated against or subjected to any unfair treatment, and has urged the community to follow suit,” she stressed.
She noted that a group of major victims of stigma is women, especially people with disabilities, as women with disabilities are stigmatised mainly due to their disability, femininity and vulnerability.