Protestant church leaders from across Africa are holding a four-day summit in Kenya on how they can help fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
The meeting has been organized by the All Africa Conference of Churches to mobilize the continent's clergy in the struggle against HIV and AIDS.
Kenyan Vice President Moody Awori told the churchmen they must help inform African youths about the risky sexual behaviors that increase the danger of contracting the fatal virus.
"Churches are well-placed in society to deal with the menace," he said. "Based on this understanding, I would like to call upon all churches committed to the good of mankind, to live up to their priestly and prophetic role of assuring that their flock maintain good health as well as spiritual well-being."
The president of the conference, Reverend Nyansanko-ni Nki, said that preaching against extra-marital and pre-marital sex must continue, but that message alone will not conquer the pandemic.
"The statistics are grim," said Reverend Nyansanko-ni Nki. "Half of Namibia's population may be killed by the year 2010. The citizenry of Lesotho may all be wiped out by the year 2025. In Zimbabwe, South Africa, and my own country, Cameroon, at least 600 people are infected by HIV/AIDS every day, making pastors these days more busy in burying the dead than engaging in evangelization."
Some delegates said they feel a sense of desperation when they contemplate the problems of poverty, war and sexual exploitation that has fueled the spread of the deadly disease across Africa. Reverend Forbes Matonga, of the Christian Care charity in Zimbabwe, says African leaders have much to answer for.
"The continent is faced with extinction," he said. "And it does not seem to realize [it]. I am disappointed with the way, not only African presidents, but even African bishops have reacted not only to HIV/AIDS but to everything that is going on the African continent."
About 40 percent of Africa's health-care facilities are church-operated, and the summit is exploring how to increase the capacity of those clinics and hospitals to treat HIV-infected patients. The meeting also will consider how the international community can more effectively support churches in battling the disease.