Why partner with religious communities to address HIV?
“We have a unique presence and reach within communities. We have unique structures and programmes that are already in place. We are available. We are reliable. And we are sustainable. We were there long before AIDS came and we will still be there when AIDS goes away.” (Canon Gideon Byamugisha)
The foundational principles of all the major faith traditions – love, compassion, respect for the dignity of all persons and charity for the less fortunate – ground the work of religious communities in the face of HIV. Religious leaders are the moral compass of faith communities and can foster inclusive and compassionate responses to those affected by the disease in their midst.
Religious communities are already at the forefront of efforts to prevent and respond to the pandemic; at the community level, they can quickly respond and adapt to changing needs. Community members report that what they most value about religious actors’ provision of HIV services is their capacity to deliver spiritual and psychosocial care, even above the more tangible medical services.
Recognizing the significant role that religious communities play in the provision of a range of HIV-related services has led to the development of the Partnership with Faith-based Organizations: UNAIDS strategic framework. The purpose of the framework is to encourage stronger collaboration between theJoint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), partners such as UNICEF and FBOs to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. This includes the integration of FBOs in comprehensive national AIDS responses.
FBOs can also be influential in addressing the silence and fear that holds many back from seeking needed treatment and emotional support. Many people at highest risk for contracting HIV – such as sex workers, men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs – engage in behaviour that may be considered taboo. Leaders in religious communities can be instrumental in challenging attitudes and confronting stigma, shame and taboo subjects by focusing on the values of dignity, respect and compassion their faiths share.