The rising anti-gay agenda of many African churches has left them "disconnected" from AIDS victims who are unable to receive treatment elsewhere, one AIDS relief advocate has said.
The Rev. Nyambura Njorge, coordinator of the Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiative in Africa, said that widespread church support of criminal penalties for homosexuals has driven those who are at risk from the disease underground, according to a World Council of Churches (WCC) news release.
Njorge noted that this is particular serious because in many parts of African, churches are at the forefront of providing health services and care for people with HIV.
"This is an area where we will never agree, we will not have one perspective. But how do we get someone to go for testing if they are in hiding because of what people are saying about them?" Njorge said at a workshop during the 18th International Conference on AIDS in Vienna.
Anti-gay sentiments in Africa are some of the most severe in the world, with nearly 30 countries on the continent upholding laws that make homosexuality illegal.
A bill proposed in Uganda last October would make homosexual acts punishable by life imprisonment and in cases where offenders are HIV-positive, death.
Prominent church officials such as Pastor Martin Ssempa, who heads the Uganda National Pastors Task Force Against Homosexuality, have expressed support for the bill and the continued criminalization of homosexuality.
The newly appointed head of the Anglican Church in Nigeria, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, said earlier this month that Nigeria is under attack from an "invading army of homosexuality, lesbianism and bisexual lifestyle."
"Same sex marriage, paedophilia and all sexual pervasions should be roundly condemned by all who accept the authority of Scripture over human life," he said.
Meanwhile, other clerics, including Bishop Christopher Ssenjyonjo of the Anglican Church in Uganda, have been working to promote equal rights and protection for the gay community.
"God wants me to help oppressed peoples," said Ssenyonjo, who recently finished a tour of the U.S. to promote gay rights in Africa. "Homosexuals should enjoy all the rights and benefits that heterosexuals enjoy."
For Njorge, churches should create "safe spaces" to enable faith leaders to discuss the issue of HIV with those who are directly affected, regardless of their sexual orientation.