As has been frequently observed, the job of implementing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy does not fall to the Federal Government alone, nor should it. Successfully achieving the Strategy’s important life-saving goals requires the commitment of all parts of society, including the nation’s rich diversity of faith communities. In fact, the Federal Implementation Plan calls upon the Department of Health and Human Services to work with Centers for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships across the U.S. government to develop a plan for engaging more faith leaders to promote support for people living with HIV. Last Fall, we described our initial efforts to foster the engagement of faith communities in these important activities through our collaboration with the Centers for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, and Education.
Our churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and other faith communities are uniquely positioned to contribute to the broad-based national effort underway to reverse the course of the HIV epidemic in America. Many faith communities have been involved in important HIV education, prevention, testing, and care efforts from the early days of the epidemic. To realize the promise of the Strategy’s goals, however, we need even more faith communities to engage in such efforts. Some will do so independently. Others will become engaged in collaboration with some of the many other partners—including other faith communities, state and local governments, health care providers, affected communities, businesses, philanthropy, educational institutions, media outlets, and others—all similarly mobilized by the President’s call for collective action on this significant national need.
Given their abiding concern for the wellbeing of their congregants, there are many ways that faith communities can support the goals of the NHAS. Two that are particularly important are:
- Encourage congregants to learn their HIV status so that, if infected, they can take advantage of life-saving treatments. Such efforts will help identify some of the more than 230,000 Americans living with HIV who are unaware of their infection and, thus, not accessing the care and treatment that can enhance and extend their lives and reduce the likelihood that they will pass their infection to others.
- Work to reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS. The ongoing stigma associated with HIV disease—and the sexual and drug-using behaviors that can lead to infection—continue to interfere with our efforts, as a nation, to conquer this illness. Fear of discrimination causes some Americans to avoid learning their HIV status, disclosing their status, or accessing needed medical care. Faith leaders are especially well positioned to deliver messages of understanding and non-judgmental support that can serve as constructive examples to others in the community.
A new fact sheet from the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) is designed to help faith communities pursue these and other activities. The fact sheet, United in Battling HIV/AIDS: A Guide to Understanding How Faith Communities Can Make a Difference, The Balm in Gilead, Inc., Latino Commission on AIDS, and the HHS Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships which begins March 6, the fact sheet provides information and resources for faith communities to use in initiating or enhancing existing health and HIV/AIDS activities. The four-page fact sheet also features a great list of specific actions that faith communities can consider taking to educate members, promote health, prevent new infections, and encourage compassionate care and support of those living with or impacted by HIV/AIDS. “State and local health departments are eager to partner with faith-based and other community organizations to achieve the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy,” said Ms. Julie Scofield, the Executive Director of NASTAD. “State and local health departments can provide up-to-date information about the spread and impact of the virus and their programs offer critical services including HIV testing and referral into HIV care.”
We would also like to share examples and ideas that are working in your community. How does your faith community respond to HIV/AIDS? How could it enhance those activities as part of the broader national efforts to achieve the Strategy’s goals? What is needed to make this happen? Join the discussion and share your thoughts in the comments section below.