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Editorial

The Role of Religion in the HIV/AIDS Intervention in Africa: a Possible Model for Conservation Biology
Biodiversity in sub-Saharan Africa is under enormous pressure. International economic actors and the desire of those living in poverty to escape it are causing the ongoing conversion of land to human uses and the direct destruction of habitat and wildlife. The resulting urgency and challenge of conserving Africas biodiversity demands a multidimensional approach. Conservation biologists must transcend perceived disciplinary boundaries and connect with new allies. Religious institutions address the moral and ethical challenges of human society. Anthropologists of religion such as Rappaport (1979, 1999) consider religion a primary regulator of human behavior and capable of controlling impulses toward short-term individual gain in the interests of the long-term collective good. In sub-Saharan Africa, Christianity is a dominant force, with the majority of countries that lie in the critical areas for biodiversity conservation heavily populated by Christians (Central Intelligence Agency 2007). Religion sets the context for pivotal decisions and daily living for many Africans. Conservation biologists need to explore this vantage and research religion and its power as an incentive for behavioral change to promote conservation efforts in Africa. Religious institutions in many parts of the globe are starting to espouse the duty of humans to care for biological diversity and ecological integrity and not degrade them. For instance, the Episcopal Church in the United States has developed A Catechism of Creation: an Episcopal Understanding for study in congregations (www. episcopalchurch.org/science/). A Rocha International a Christian nature conservation organizationhas conservation projects in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and North America, with a track record of successes (http://en.arocha.org/work/index.html). Even the Vatican has shown an avid interest in climate change. In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI hosted a conference on global warming and announced plans to preserve forests, install solar cells, and make Vatican City a carbon-neutral state. Although most African religious institutions focus on the multitude of human problems, their efforts in this area may serve as a model for conservation work. Of particular interest has been the significant response by African churches to the human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) pandemic. The HIV/AIDS scourge is being impeded defiantly by efforts of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa HIV/AIDS TB & Malaria Network, Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Adventist HIV-AIDS International Ministry, World Vision (United States), Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, and many other church organizations based in Africa collaborating with international partners. Several of these churches have developed policies to address HIV/AIDS in Africa in collaboration with U.S. Agency for International Development. Although the role of religion in changing human behavior is pervasive, it does not, however, guarantee behavioral change in every individual because of the subjective differences and dispositions of religious institutions. For example, in fighting HIV/AIDS, Christian churches are beginning to understand that their basic assumption that preaching and moralizing about HIV/AIDS would solve the problem of behavior change is not foolproof. Nussbaum (2005) states that Christian churches in their collaboration with secular groups wrongly assumed that 1) societys ills can be diagnosed by scholars, such as theologians, and solutions can be imposed by institutions, such as churches, that hold power over their members, and 2) since human beings are basically rational beings, they will do what is reasonable if they have adequate information. He argues that the powers of institutional control and human rationality have been overrated. Nevertheless, this does not negate the potential of the role of religion in the HIV/AIDS intervention. For instance, Garner (2000) argues that certain faiths, including Pentecostals, are in a much better position to enforce messages of abstinence as a strategy for HIV/AIDS prevention among congregation members because they have higher levels of control over the congregation in key areas such as marriage and through counseling. Perhaps what is needed is a multiple-pronged attack (including religion) on the problem of HIV/AIDS, an approach that has recorded success in Uganda, Senegal, and Jamaica (Oyango 2001; Nussbaum 2005), and conserving life on Earth can benefit from such an approach. The success story of Senegal in the HIV/AIDS fight was partly due to a formal resolution in 1992 by the National
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Editorial

AIDS Control Program (NACP) during the 28th ordinary session of Organization of African Unity (OAU) heads of state for the mobilization of the entire society to respond to HIV/AIDS by involving, in particular, traditional and religious leaders. Initiation of the resolution facilitated the emergence of policy dialogue on HIV/AIDS with Senegalese religious leaders. In their work with grassroots NGOs such as Jarma (Islamic NGO) and SIDA-Service (Catholic NGO), governments achieved the following through the support of religious leaders: 2 national meetings of religious leaders that led to the adoption of more formalized information, education, and communication (IEC) methods as a prevention strategy (Oyango 2001). Notably, there was a multiplication of sensitization efforts through conferences, structured educational sessions, and radio and TV behavior-change message spots. The results of a study conducted in January 1997 to assess the impact of mass media as a communication strategy for HIV/AIDS prevention suggest that direct religious sessions were the favorite channel of communication. Over 40% of those surveyed said they preferred to listen to HIV/AIDS messages during religious sessions. The IEC activities blended their messages with religious flavor, and this contributed to an increase in the level of knowledge of HIV/AIDS in Senegal. According to the third Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) in Senegal in 1997, 90% of the Senegalese population is well informed about HIV/AIDS, including knowledge about all the means of protection. Concomitantly, prevalence of HIV among hospital patients that was 15.9% in 1993 dropped to an overall national prevalence rate of around 2% in the same year 1997 (Oyango 2001). Some religious organizations in Africa in their HIV/AIDS intervention efforts supplement treatment of the disease with prayer and religious exercises in pragmatic outreach programs. For example, the Redeemed AIDS Program Action Committee (RAPAC) of the Pentecostal Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) has a vision to reduce the spread and transmission of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (Adogame 2007). Intervention mechanisms employed include education and spiritual counseling, sermons, publications, and drama. Biblical stories are used to translate the ideals of HIV/AIDS programs into positive health behaviors, attitudes, practices, and knowledge. Spiritual leaders give the necessary backing for the HIV/AIDS intervention. For example, the Nigerian Guardian reported that during the annual Holy Ghost Congress of 2007 by the RCCG, General Overseer Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye told his congregation to take HIV status seriously by being testedsomething that is a cultural anxiety and a public health barrier. Adebayo (2004) believes lessons have been learned from RAPAC programs. Awareness talks on HIV/AIDS that include relevant biblical scriptures are popular and often participants eagerness to learn and participate in communal

discussions and behavioral change is provoked. In addition, the behavioral change continuum is aided with an increase in participation and collective action by church leaders. Could such activities and religious organizational infrastructure be applied to conservation? These pragmatic outreach programs show that similar approaches could be used by the church to foster behavioral change in regards to environmental sustainability in Africa. For example, education through publications, sermons, and drama could be used as conduits of communication to address a host of sustainability issues, including bushmeat consumption, pollution prevention, reuse, littering and waste reduction, and watershed protection. The IEC method, a behavioral-change tool used in the HIV/AIDS intervention, can be adapted and harnessed by conservation biology and religious institutions. There is also a strong reservoir of potential in the membership strength of religious bodies to offer volunteers in the cause of conservation. Building on the aforementioned inroads, religious leaders and conservation biologists may even reach the policy sector of government through advocacy messages, which lays a basis for policy dialogue. The question is not so much could religious institutions make a difference, but might they be willing to make a difference and how can they be brought into the conservation fold? Human problems are overwhelming in many parts of Africa, but certainly biodiversity protection can benefit people in the long run. Humans depend on ecological sustainability for long-term survival and wellbeing. Biodiversity conservation adds to the aesthetic and psychological quality of life and provides ecological services, although it necessarily also limits exploitation of some areas. Thus far, Africas religious leaders remain largely uncommitted and uninvolved. They have said little about biodiversitys intrinsic value and humanitys moral obligation to sustain life on Earth. Conservation biologists may not be the best messengers to elicit a conservation ethic in African societies, but perhaps conservation biologists in conjunction with religious leaders who have acknowledged humanitys duties to creation might bring Africans around. Conservation biologists could help facilitate such discussions and provide the expertise about what needs to be done to protect biodiversity. Even with the support of religious institutions conservation would still confront large cultural, political, and economic challenges. Many Africans associate wildlife and the rural bush with backwardness. Because many Africans have moved from rural and humble beginnings to the affluent cities and towns, it is thought to be retrogressive to associate with the bush; therefore, wildlife conservation is not considered a priority for society. An Earth-friendly attitude would probably be regarded as new and might not be wholeheartedly and widely embraced. Economic neediness and political instability are also obstacles. Nonetheless, the support of religious

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institutions for conservation would be important to the conservation movement in Africa.


Stephen Mufutau Awoyemi
Ecology & Environmental Biology Program, Ecology Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria, email sawoyemi@ gmail.com

Literature Cited
Adebayo, A. O. 2004. Using spirituality/religious communication domain as antidote for spiritual dogma amongst the Pentecostals: a perspective and experience of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) faith-based initiative. U.S. National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland. Available from http://gateway.nlm.nih.gov/ meetingabstracts/102284329.html (accessed December 2007). Adogame, A. 2007. HIV/AIDS support and African Pentecostalism: the case of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). Journal of Health Psychology 12:475484.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 2007. The World Factbook. CIA, Office of Public Affairs, Washington, D.C. Available from http://www. cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/ (accessed December 2007). Garner, Robert. 2000. Safe sects? Dynamic religion and AIDS in South Africa. Journal of Modern African Studies 38:4169. Nussbaum, S. 2005. The contribution of Christian congregations to the battle with HIV/AIDS at the community level. Global Mapping International. Colorado Springs, Colorado. Available from http:// www.gmi.org/research/AIDS%20Research%20Report%20-%20Full %20Report.pdf (accessed January 2008). Oyango, P. 2001. Working with religious leaders to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Senegal. Pages 161174 in B. Makinwa and M. OGardy, editors. FHI/UNAIDS best practices in HIV/AIDS prevention collection. Family Health International, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Available from http://tinyurl.com/23gd9 (accessed January 2008). Rappaport, R. A. 1979. Ecology, meaning and religion. 2nd edition. North Atlantic Books. Berkeley, California. Rappaport, R. A. 1999. Ritual and religion in the making of humanity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Conservation Biology Volume 22, No. 4, 2008