- While faith-based leadership plays a critical role in stigma reduction related to HIV, more still needs to be done;
- An effective faith-based and society-wide response to HIV is only possible if people living with HIV participate more meaningfully;
- Support for the faith-based response to HIV has the potential to deliver greater results;
- A perceived decrease in attention to HIV is cause for concern; and
- Gaps remain in responding effectively to the root causes of vulnerability to HIV.
Faith-based leadership plays a critical role in reducing stigma related to HIV, but more still needs to be done, according to a report released for World AIDS Day by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance. The report, “Together We Must Still Do More” analyzes responses by religious leaders reporting on their fulfillment of a personal commitment to action to respond to HIV.
The report “confirms and validates two of the most important lessons each one of us has individually learnt from our personal experiences and community leadership involvement actions,” says Rev Canon Prof Gideon Byamugisha, International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV (INERELA+) and Global Working Group on Faith, SSDDIM & HIV (1).
“One is that AIDS (and the stigma that fuels it) cannot stand ground in the face of resolute faith community leadership and congregational involvement in prayer, accurate information sharing, appropriate attitudes and skills building, service provision and in practical advocacy for policy environments that make safe behaviors and practices known, possible, popular and routine,” states Byamugisha.
The second, he says, “is that wherever and whenever the people living with, vulnerable to, at-risk of and affected by HIV have been loved, cared for, supported and involved in HIV policy planning, messaging and communication and in service delivery; the dividends in enhanced HIV prevention, better health outcomes and greater community mobilization and solidarity against the epidemic have been there for all to see.”
The personal commitment to action was a product of a high-level meeting of religious leaders with people living with HIV and representatives of UN, government, and civil society organizations in March 2010. At the summit, some 40 high-level religious leaders signed “Together We Must Do More: My Personal Commitment to Action”. Since then, over 450 religious leaders have joined them. The commitment is unique because it asks signatories to report every 18 months how they have fulfilled their commitment. This is their second report.
The research that this report presents was conducted between June and September 2013, and comprises the findings from an online questionnaire and one-on-one interviews that surveyed a total of 47 religious leaders from five faith traditions(2) and 24 countries (3). Five key findings indicate that:
“This report makes an important statement about the central role that faith-based leadership can play in challenging stigma towards people living with HIV,” says Raoul Fransen, MPH, Executive Director a.i., Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+).
“What is uplifting is the strength of commitment of many religious leaders from diverse backgrounds, who often face difficulties in their quest to overcome entrenched attitudes. To date, a good deal of work has been done to change faith- and society-held beliefs, but there is still much further to go, and complexities continue to be faced by many when discussing HIV, and the issues surrounding it,” he continues. “ It remains crucial for people living with HIV to participate in faith-based forums, in order to keep HIV on the agenda with faith leaders. In addition, this report shows that there are still some issues, such as men who have sex with men (MSM) and other key affected populations, which remain conspicuous by their absence, and presumably very challenging. It is our job to ensure that the voices of those who are most vulnerable to HIV are not swept under the carpet.”
The report notes that while the study represents a small sample, “the results demonstrate a high degree of commitment on the part of those who participated in the study in responding to HIV to the best of their ability, often with odds stacked against them.” Almost 20% of the religious leaders responding to the survey are openly living with HIV.
Byamugisha concludes, “Though a decrease in attention to HIV as well as the gaps that remain in responding effectively to the root causes of vulnerability to HIV are a cause for concern in the report, we are optimistic that continued leadership work and practical community level action from more faith communities and leaders can overcome these remaining challenges. Every time each of us leaders and faith communities do what we can, a societal solidarity momentum is generated that in sum total accomplishes what initially seemed impossible.”
Notes for Editors
(1) SSDDIM stands for Stigma, Shame, Denial, Discrimination, Inaction and Misaction
(2) Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faith traditions.
(3) Argentina; Bangladesh; Barbados; Cambodia; Canada; Cuba; Germany; Guyana; India; Israel; Malawi; Myanmar; Nigeria; Norway; Papua New Guinea; Rwanda; Sierra Leone; South Africa; Thailand; United Kingdom; United States of America;Vietnam; and Zimbabwe.
The full report, Together We Must Still Do More, is available here, as well as at www.hivcommitment.net.
For more information: contact Ruth Foley, firstname.lastname@example.org, +41 (0)22 791 6037.
The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance is a broad international network of churches and Christian organizations cooperating in advocacy on food and HIV and AIDS. The Alliance is based in Geneva, Switzerland. For more information, see http://www.e-alliance.ch/