Rev. Fred Annin on the fight against HIV

Rev Fred Annin
Reverend Fred Osei Annin is the Founder and CEO of Actionplus Foundation, a community organisation supporting people living with HIV and delivering HIV prevention and testing programmes through churches.

‘HIV was and is still a major human issue with strings of stigma and other negative labels attached to it. This intervention is designed to save lives and I find it a battle worth fighting.’

Mambo: How and why did you get involved in the work on HIV?

Rev Annin: My main aim when forming Actionplus Foundation was to find a way to support pastors and church elders to gain knowledge about HIV and other STIs. The church plays a central role in the lives of many African communities, who look towards pastors and church elders for guidance and support. Many pastors and church elders do not have a good understanding of HIV while others view it as a ‘curse from God’. This is because some of them view people who are HIV positive as ‘promiscuous’ or ‘immoral’. This unfortunate ignorance has led to the stigmatisation of people living with HIV – sometimes they have been mocked and thrown out of church.  Other faith leaders believe that their powerful prayers alone can cure HIV and therefore discourage people living with HIV from continuing their medical treatment after they have prayed for them. Those who stopped taking their medication found their health deteriorating, with reports of some losing their lives. Such an environment makes it very difficult for health institutions and bodies that provide HIV services to engage with the church community.

Mambo: What do you consider to be your biggest success so far in this work?

Rev Annin: We have managed to change the mindsets of many pastors to view HIV as a medical issue rather than a curse from God. Through training programmes we have empowered pastors and church members to champion HIV interventions in their congregations.  Church members are now testing so they can find out their HIV status and access treatment in time. Through a partnership with Positive East, a London-based HIV organisation, we have successfully delivered our intervention Take Action Now Against HIV to promote early HIV testing in churches. The work has taught people how to protect themselves from being infected by HIV. Actionplus Foundation has established branches working with local organisations, public health bodies, pastors and churches across London, Luton and Ghana. We have won many national and local awards for a successful 19-year journey in HIV interventions.

Mambo: What do you consider to be the biggest stumbling block to other faith leaders getting involved?

Rev Annin: The biggest challenge for many ministers and Christian leaders when addressing HIV is finding extra time to cope with activities outside of the church. Whether a pastor has started a new church with few members, or has already established their church with many members, it always requires time and attention to fulfil their ministerial obligations. To some, activities which are not spiritual are not a priority. HIV stigma in the church has always been there and has had a long-term effect on those who are living with HIV.

Mambo: What does it take to be successful in what you do?

Rev Annin: First of all, my faith in God. I have trusted God ever since I became a Christian and a minister about 34 years ago. The call of God upon my life – and the HIV work – was not something I expected. I heard God speaking to me about it and I believed him, I kept the vision and pursued it. When I started, I didn’t look back because of the numerous challenges I encountered. HIV was and is still a major human issue with strings of stigma and other negative labels attached to it. This intervention is designed to save lives and I find it a battle worth fighting. I see my strength growing daily to keep me renewed on the battle field. I always dream big and dare to be different and God keeps my faith growing stronger every day. Also hard work, determination and being willing to make a lot of sacrifices keep me motivated against HIV on a daily basis.

Mambo: What do you think the Government and organisations in the HIV sector need to do more of to increase the participation of faith communities in the fight against HIV?

Rev Annin: The Government should invest more resources to enable the development of interventions in churches. Faith communities are a doorway for HIV prevention and we need to continue to work with pastors and faith leaders to sustain this good working relationship. The need for investment is paramount as I have seen many HIV charities being closed down because they could not access funding to continue providing services to their clients.

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Denis is the Head of Programmes at Africa Advocacy Foundation. He has many years experience of working with African communities on HIV.

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