Young HIV woman calls on churches to provide sex education

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)Nineteen-year-old Shyreen Mvula from Malawi was born HIV positive. On November 6, 2013 she told some 3,000 people at the World Council of Churches 10th Assembly in Busan, South Korea that churches need to get involved in sex education for young people if they are to help communities deal with the scourge of HIV and AIDS effectively. She also engaged in a discussion with the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

BUSAN, South Korea - Shyreen Mvula from Malawi stood in front of 3,000 church people and declared, I was born with HIV. I am 19 years old."

Mvula was invited to the World Council of Churches 10th General Assembly to tell her story of injustice as a teenager living HIV positive in a world with inadequate education or resources regarding HIV and AIDS.

Moving many in the audience to tears, Mvula told the Assembly, "I am HIV positive. I don't want to have children who are HIV positive. I want to have kids who are HIV negative."

According to, there are roughly 23.8 million infected persons in all of Africa and 91 percent of the world's HIV-positive children live in Africa.

Her speech was short, but confident.

"We want healing ministries through our churches. We also want sex education in our churches. We want sex education to first be done in the churches," Mvula told church leaders and theologians.

Mvula received an enthusiastic response from the audience at the conclusion of her comments and later reiterated her message with an HIV positive man in a meeting organized by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

Mvula's speech was part of an hour and a half formal meeting at the once-every-seven-years Assembly for church leaders from around the world engaged in the ecumenical movement.

The theme for the event was the issues surrounding justice work in the world from a Christian perspective.

There were many stories of injustice shared and practical action steps given during the morning to help church leaders acknowledge the justice and peace work that needs to be accomplished after the Assembly concludes on Friday.

The executive director of the Interfaith Network of Religious Leaders living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS (INERELA ), Rev. Phumzile Mabizela, also spoke out about the inadequate relief opportunities for people living with HIV.

"As a religious leader openly living with HIV, I would like to thank the WCC for giving me a platform to speak for myself," Mabizela, a pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Africa in South Africa, told the WCC Assembly.

"On the issue of healing, we as the Church have lied to people," Mabizela said, "We have privatized healing and we have told people that if you don't have faith you shall not be healed. We need to be prophets and say to people you have a right to healing and give people appropriate accurate information."

Mvula and Mabizela both used their speeches as opportunities to speak out against ignorance surrounding HIV and AIDS, promoted by some churches, according to Mabizela.

"HIV and AIDS is not a punishment from God. It is just a disease so please join us in the fight of this disease," Mvula said.

"Medicines are a gift from God. Medicines need to be seen not as a curse. We know that there are pastors who are telling people stop taking your medication; you will be healed if I pray for you," added Mabizela.

Mabizela called out what she called "rich countries" that "deprived people like myself who are living with HIV of the right to access to medicine. And this is greed. And we need to call it as such."

The question remains as to whether church leaders will take Mvula and Mabizela's speeches to heart and provide sex education, medication awareness and opportunities for Christians to work against social injustices.

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