HIV-Positive African Priest Awarded 2009 Niwano Peace Prize

The first African clergy to publicly reveal that he is HIV-positive was awarded the 2009 Niwano Peace Prize, which is comparable to the Nobel Peace Prize for the religious community, the award committee announced Friday.

Ugandan Anglican priest the Rev. Canon Gideon Byamugisha was named this year's Niwano Peace Prize winner because of his efforts to break down the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and his advocacy for religious people to become more involved in the AIDS fight.

"Canon Gideon has turned personal suffering into a religious message of hope and courage and has matched it with constructive action that has provided inspiration and help to so many who have fallen victim to the HIV/AIDS pandemic," said one member of the prize committee, according to Ecumenical News International.

Byamugisha is the second African recipient of the Niwano Peace Prize within five years. The winner of the first prize in 2004 was the Acholi Religious Leaders' Peace Initiative, an interfaith group that works to address the armed conflict in Uganda.

In his efforts to raise awareness about AIDS, Byamugisha has spoken before the U.N. General Assembly. In June 2006, the Ugandan Anglican priest became the second person openly living with HIV to address the General Assembly.

"Gideon broke a huge barrier of silence and denial when he announced publicly that he was living with HIV," said Linda Hartke, head of Geneva-based Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance that focuses on HIV/AIDS, according to ENI.

"This has had a profound impact on religious communities all over the world - leading to the formation of the African Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV or AIDS (ANERELA+), and also raising awareness among churches and people of faith … and calling them to be strong advocates for prevention, treatment, care and support," she said.

The Niwano Peace Prize is awarded by Japan-based Niwano Peace Foundation and includes about $213,000 in award money. Byamugisha will be presented the award certificate, medal and prize money at a ceremony in Tokyo on May 7.

There are an estimated 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS in 2007, according to the 2008 UNAIDS/WHO report. Since 1981, more than 25 million people have died of AIDS.