Africa: Catholic Church Involvement in the Battle Against the HIV & AIDS Pandemic


Title: HIV & AIDS IN AFRICA: Christian Reflection, Public Health, and Social Transformation

Publisher: Orbis Books, New York, USA

Editor: Father Jacquineau Azetsop, SJ

Number of pages: 424

Year of Publication: 2016

Price: Kenya Shillings 2,100 (US $21)

Contact: Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, USA, P.O Box 302, Maryknoll, NY 10545-O3O2, USA

(The book can also be locally purchased through the Hekima University College and the Maryknoll Society House in Nairobi, Kenya)

Reviewer: Francis Njuguna

On many fronts, the Catholic Church in Africa is making notable efforts in the fight against the HIV and AIDS pandemic in Africa. Such efforts include the advocacy of the rights of the people afflicted by the pandemic, available care giving facilities and offering prayers for the sick people. The just published book – HIV & AIDS IN Africa: Christian Reflection, Public Health, Social Transformation — stands out as one such example.

The 31well researched, written and presented essays of the new book demonstrate some aspects of the church’s efforts and contributions in this field. In the book’s introduction message, the Editor Cameroun Jesuit theologian Father Jacquineau Azetsop, SJ states that even though many theological papers and books addressing all sorts of issues in relation to the AIDS pandemic have been written in Africa and worldwide, none goes as far as putting to the fore a comprehensive reflection on the AIDS pandemic from an African perspective. By harnessing the resources of the different branches of theology as well as the intention of designing a model of theological reflection for the future public health crises, this book fills a void.

In his essay entitled Small Christian Communities as Agents of Change in The Fight Against HIV And AIDS in Eastern Africa that appears in the section “Methodological and Normative Concerns of An Applied Theology on HIV and AIDS(pages 77-89), American Maryknoll Missionary Father Joseph Healey, MM affirms the Catholic Bishops’ participation in the battle against the HIV and AIDS in the Eastern Africa Region. “The AMECEA (Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa) Study Conference in Mukono, Uganda, in 2005 on “Responding to the Challenge of HIV/AIDS within the AMECEA Region” had one pastoral resolution that emphasized the “active involvement of SCCs in reaching out to people with HIV and AIDS: SCC members as caregivers, counselors, and etc.” This can be extended to SCC members reaching out to refugees, internally displaced people (IDP); people traumatized by civil war, violence, and tribalism/ethnicity; street children; and sick, bereaved and other needy people,” the Catholic missionary of over 45 years of pastoral service in Africa and a staunch promoter of the SCCs pastoral program in Africa stated.

On page 81 and under the sub-title “Case Study of Volunteer Community Health-Care Workers in the SCCs in Kenya,” the author is quick to observe that SCCs in Eastern Africa have developed a new lay health-care ministry, a volunteer community-based apostolate. “These voluntary Community Health Care (CHC) workers or ministers focus on reaching out to people with HIV and their families. This is important new lay ministry in SCCs is described by American Maryknoll Missionary and Kenyatta University Catholic Chaplain Father Lance Nadeau, MM:

In addition to bring agents of missionary outreach to the poor, SCCs in Nairobi and elsewhere in East Africa are developing a new, inculturated, and critical form of lay health care ministry: the huduma ya afya (Swahili for “the service of health care”), a volunteer community-based health care apostolate that provides diversified services to the community.”

Such community-based services, the author emphasizes, include: visit the sick in their homes to talk and pray with them; bring nurses and social workers to evaluate the sick; recommend that the sick go to dispensaries and hospitals; accompany the sick to dispensaries and hospitals if necessary; bring medications to the sick; train the family members in home care, nutrition, and hygiene; and inform the parish priests if the sick want a visit.

The author stresses that SCCs in Eastern Africa also have many outreach activities related to HIV prevention and AIDS care. He cites St. Kizito SCC, located in Waruku, an informal settlement area (lower class housing) in Nairobi as an example. It is one of the ten neighborhood, parish-based SCCs in St Austin’s Parish in Nairobi Archdiocese. The Amani na Wema (Swahili for peace and goodness) Children’s Home that has AIDS orphans is part of the SCC. SCC members reach out to the children through jointBible sharing, praying the rosary and providing food and gifts.

Many SCCs have a lay ecclesial ministry called the Good Neighbor or the Good Samaritan in which a person is responsible for visiting the sick and reporting news back to the whole small community. This minister visits the AIDS patients to pray with them and to encourage them to persevere. Sometimes the SCC members go as a small group. The members informally counsel patients that the virus is not the end of their lives. They can live with the virus and take helpful and healing medicine. SCC members emphasize the power of God in the sick people’s lives.

Under the sub-title “Using Various Pastoral Theological Reflection Methods Leading to Change and Transformation,” Healey emphasizes that SCCs in Eastern African use various pastoral theological reflections methods such as the three steps of “See,” “Judge” and Act” that are part of pastoral spiral (also known as the pastoral circle or pastoral cycle). “The term pastoral spiral is preferred because it shows the ongoing-ness of the method or process,” the new book emphasizes.

Healey suggests that rather than being only problem-centered, we need to see the AIDS pandemic as a challenge and even an opportunity to live the gospel in a different and deeper way as we reach out to those people whom Pope Francis calls the wounded and those on the margins and peripheries of society. “SCCs can implement the Second African Synod’s recommendations for the reconciliation and healing services on the local level,” the author emphasizes, while adding, “SCC members thus become agents of change and transformation.”

In his essay “Fighting AIDS from the Grassroots: History, Theology, Values and Challenges of Home-Based Care in Zambia” Zambian Jesuit Father Leonard Chiti, SJ writes extensively about the home-based care (HBC) program or system for treating people living with HIV in Zambia as a complement to the mainstream healthcare delivery system for people living with HIV (PLWH):

Initially the home-based care (HBC) system emerged as a community/grassroots based initiative to deal with a very serious matter of the inadequate capacity of the state health delivery system to cope with the challenge of increasing numbers of patients testing positive for HIV…The Catholic Church’s intervention though the establishment of home-based care (HBC) has had enormous success in the treatment and curative approach to the pandemic in addition to its pastoral interventions….In Zambia in the Catholic Church that accounts for a third of all people calling themselves Christian, the home-based care (HBC) system followed closely the pattern of Small Christian Communities.

In the “Foreword” to the book, American woman theologian Shawn Copeland states: “The most radical import of these essays is this: “There is no “us” and “them”; there is only we.”

Francis Njuguna

Nairobi, Kenya