Priest uses his HIV-positive status to fight stigma of disease

Published August 16, 2006

Canon Gideon Byamugisha, an Anglican priest whose remarks closed the ecumenical conference and brought about 500 people to their feet, is a living symbol of his cause: he talks openly about his HIV-positive status to fight the shame and discrimination felt by many with HIV and AIDS.

Founder of a network of African religious leaders affected by HIV/AIDS, Mr. Byamugisha said he wanted his network to serve “as a global forum for breaking the stigma” often felt by those living with the disease.

Fourteen years ago, he was the first African Anglican clergyperson to announce he had HIV, at a time when “people associated HIV with immorality, prostitution, drug addiction.” He is currently canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Namirembe, Uganda and of Holy Cross Cathefral in Lusaka, Zambia. He also works as an advisor to the aid organization World Vision on church and faith-based partnerships.

In an interview, he related how his first wife had died in 1991 of an AIDS-related illness and how he got tested in 1992 and discovered he had the virus. His second wife is also HIV-positive, he told the conference, “but we postponed having a baby until we knew how mother-to-child transmission could be prevented.” He has been taking antiretroviral drugs since 1998, he said, adding, “I feel strong.”


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