Religious Leaders Vow To Fight HIV/AIDS Stigma, Discrimination

A two-day gathering in The Hague, Netherlands, of religious leaders to discuss the role people of faith can play in the fight against HIV/AIDS concluded Tuesday with a pledge to prevent discrimination against those living with the disease, the Associated Press reports.

“Representatives of some 40 religions and faith groups including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism… sign[ed] a ‘personal commitment to action’ in which they vowed to ‘be clear in my words and actions that stigma and discrimination towards people living with or affected by HIV is unacceptable,'” the news service writes.

United Nations Population Fund’s Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said the release of the statement marked “a sea change,” according to the AP. “There is no talk about sinning or repentance,” she said. “It is more about acceptance of people living with HIV” (Corder, 3/23).

“Religious leaders can play a vital role in the AIDS response,” UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe, said in a statement, Deutsche Presse Agentur/The Hindu reports. “By promoting community solidarity they can prevent new HIV infections and ensure that people living with HIV are treated with dignity and respect,” he said (3/22).

“During the Summit, participants addressed the realities of how stigma and discrimination are perpetuated both in religious communities and society at large,” according to a UNAIDS article. The leaders worked to identify “best practices to strengthen the voice and action of religious leaders and bring about collaboration among different faiths and with other sectors involved in the response to HIV,” the article states. 

“The leaders gathered at this summit have the ability to inspire and empower change – within their own communities, across countries, and throughout wider communities,” said Rev. Richard Fee of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance. “In the midst of what appears to be ‘AIDS fatigue’ they have the potential to galvanize efforts against a disease that continues to spread, driven by silence, fear, violence and injustice” (3/23).

“The religious response to HIV/AIDS has sometimes been hindered by issues such as HIV prevention methods, including the use of condoms, and attitudes towards people at increased risk of HIV infection, such as men who have sex with men,” VOA News writes in a piece that examines the meeting that encouraged “religious leaders to talk openly about the disease.” The article includes comments by church leaders in Africa (Hennessy, 3/23).

A second AP story reports that religious leaders continue to “struggl[e] with how to balance between communicating the religious messages that talk about morality and spirituality (and) public health challenges on the ground,” said Canon Gideon Byamugisha, an Anglican priest from Uganda living with HIV, who participated in the meeting. While the meeting did address the use of condoms to reduce the spread of HIV, it was not the main focus of the days’ talks, Byamugisha said, according to the news service (Corder, 3/23).

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