Fuller Researchers on Educating Religious Leaders for HIV Prevention

Educating religious leaders about certain methods of HIV prevention could help mitigate the sexually transmitted infection from spreading further in Africa, according to the findings from a new study.

David Downs, associate professor of New Testament studies, Jennifer Downs, the lead author of the study and a medical researcher from Cornell University, and Agrey Mwakisole, Fuller doctorate of intercultural studies (DIS) alumnus, conducted a study in Tanzania between June 15, 2014 and December 10, 2015 to determine if educating religious leaders regarding the benefits and preventative measures of circumcision could curb the spread of HIV. The study found that nearly 53 percent of the men in villages where church leaders were educated about the medical procedure were circumcised. Conversely, about 30 percent of the men in the villages where religious leaders did not take part in the seminar were uncircumcised. The study involved 16 villages in all.

Circumcision can reduce a man's risk of transmitting HIV by up to 60%, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which it recommends as an effective intervention in countries ravaged by the HIV epidemic. The study concluded, “Education of religious leaders had a substantial effect on uptake of male circumcision, and should be considered as part of male circumcision programs in other sub-Saharan African countries. This study was conducted in one region in Tanzania; however, we believe that our intervention is generalizable.”

“The potential impact of the intervention and its mobilizing church leaders to support the government program is crucial, not only for HIV/AIDS but for a range of other human health issues,” said Dr. Mwakisole. “Church leaders have gained new knowledge and practice for educating church members about circumcision and other health issues.”

The study was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and the Mulago Foundation.

To read the full report in the Lancet Journal, visit here.

To study with David Downs, visit the Center for Advanced Theological Studies (CATS).

Listen to Jennifer Downs in an interview with the BBC and the Lancet Journal audio.

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