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Canon Gideon Byamugisha

Featured in the DVD What can I do?.

Rev Canon Prof Gideon Byamugisha is a priest in the Church of Uganda, based in Kampala.  In January 1992,  following the death of his first wife, he was diagnosed HIV-positive.  After intense discussions with close family members and his bishop, he decided to publicly disclose his HIV-positive status.  At the time, he was the first religious leader in Africa to declare that he was HIV-positive.  It marked the start of a remarkable ministry which has spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and to Europe, North America, the Caribbean, Asia and Australia. 

No other African religious leader has played such a key role in informing, motivating and mobilising churches and faith-based organisations to admit to the reality of AIDS in their midst, and to respond with urgency and compassion.  His message is one of openness and unconditional love.  He urges Christians to do away with judgemental attitudes towards people living with HIV, and instead to offer them practical, social and spiritual support.  He encourages churches to spread hope – not fear – through education, counselling, home-based care, practical support and prayer.

Dr Daleep Mukarji, Director of Christian Aid - presenting Gideon with the Niwano Peace Prize medal at the SFH 20th anniversary

In 2002, Canon Gideon co-founded the African Network of Religious Leaders living with and personally Affected by HIV and AIDS, which has since spread to Latin America and South Asia, and is now known as INERELA – the ‘I’ standing for ‘International’.  The author of numerous articles and books about HIV and Christian theology, Canon Gideon has also contributed to four STRATEGIES FOR HOPE materials (see ‘Notes’, below). 

In response to the myriad of factors which contribute to the HIV epidemic, Canon Gideon has devised two acronyms which sum up his approach.  The first of these, SAVE, stands for Safer practices, Appropriate treatment and nutrition, Voluntary Counselling and Testing, and Empowerment.  These are the strategies which, Canon Gideon argues, are the key to achieving an AIDS-free world.  But standing in the way of these strategies is a barrier of formidable obstacles, which he summarises as SSDDIM: Stigma, Shame, Denial, Discrimination, Inaction and Misaction.  These, says Canon Gideon, are the factors which are preventing individuals, communities and nations from embarking on effective actions against the HIV epidemic. 

Mrs Wandoa Mwambu with Gideon at the launch of the Swahili version of What can I do? in Dar es Salaam

A brilliant public speaker, Canon Gideon has delivered keynote speeches to innumerable meetings at international, national and local levels, never failing to inspire and enthuse his audiences.  He has achieved his widest audience, however, through a film produced by the STRATEGIES FOR HOPE Trust in 2004.  Entitled What can I do?, this 49 minute film tells the story of how Canon Gideon first learned of his HIV-positive status, how he came to grips with it and then developed a ministry which has given hope and inspiration to millions of people.  Over 30,000 copies of this film, in 12 languages, have been distributed so far. 

Canon Gideon’s achievements have received national and international recognition, for example, through the Parliament of Uganda Award (2008), the Niwano Peace Prize (2009), an honorary doctorate in Divinity from the University of Botswana (2010), the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Cross of St Augustine (2012), and his appointment as Visiting Professor of Political Science at the University of the South,  Sewanee, USA (2013). 

Notes: Rev Canon Gideon Byamugisha co-edited or contributed to three STRATEGIES FOR HOPE publications: Open Secret: People facing up to HIV and AIDS in Uganda (2000), Journeys of Faith: Church-based responses to HIV and AIDS in three southern African countries (2002), and Positive Voices: Religious leaders living with or personally affected by HIV and AIDS (2005).  He also features in the 49-minute documentary film, What can I do? (2004).