The Malawi Network of Religious Leaders  Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (MANERELA+) is a voluntary membership network of religious leaders living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS in Malawi. It is an interfaith network, hence, people from any faith community are eligible to become its members. MANERLA+ has taken a stand against HIV /AIDS rate being fueled by discrimination against key populations which include LGBT people, by calling for laws that recognize the existence of these groups.

The purpose of the network is to mitigate HIV and AIDS related stigma, silence, denial, discrimination, inaction and miss-action (SSDDIM) both within and outside the faith community through the empowerment of religious leaders living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS as agents of change at both congregational and national levels. The network also exists to promote the SAVE model. SAVE is an acronym that stands for: S-Safer practices; A-Accessible medication ; V-Voluntary Counseling and Testing, and E-Empowerment. The network, which is an offshoot of the African Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (ANERELA+), was established in May 2004 and was officially launched in September, the same year.

The extraordinary work of the group can be updated with a recent report on engagement by the religious leaders with minority communities in Malawi, as further noted by Macdonald Thom in a recent article here:

Some Malawian religious leaders say there is need for having laws that will recognize existence of minority groups if efforts in the fight against HIV and Aids are to bear fruits.

The sentiments were made in Lilongwe on Tuesday when Malawi Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV (Manelera+) engaged religious leaders and some minority groups in dialogue.

One of the religious leaders, Bright Tchale of Pentecostal Holiness Church said the meeting is crucial in as far as handling issues of HIV/Aids is concerned.

“This platform has opened our eyes. As men of God, we believe we can take a better step to talk to the government to repel the law that makes minority groups go into hiding. Yes it is a sinful act, but when it comes with condemnation, it does not help matters. We need laws that are incorporating,” Tchale said.

One woman who claimed to be a lesbians and spoke on condition of anonymity for what she said security reasons admitted they are facing a lot of challenges.

“The issue of discrimination is very big, especially among the minority. This meeting will help the church leaders understand our orientation. It is our belief that slowly we will be accepted in society,” she said.

Manelera+ Acting National Coordinator, Bruce Tushabe, said the meeting was organised as one way of looking at the fact the HIV prevalence rate among Lesbians, Gays, Bi-Sexuals, Transgender and Intersex.

“Manelera+ recognises that LGBTI have been marginalised and excluded from most HIV responses despite the fact that the HIV prevalence rate among men who have sex with men is about 20.4 percent, two percent higher than national prevalence rate.

Therefore as religious leaders, the onus is on us to promote tolerance, protect all people through promotion of respect and dignity irrespective of their sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion background,” Tushabe said.

More Press on the topic appeared in The Nation:

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ZIMENE MUMAKONDA

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