Sat | Aug 18, 2018

HIV fight hampered - Church opposes prevention strategies - Study

Published:Tuesday | June 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM

While many churches have reportedly become more amenable to the message of condom use to prevent the spread of HIV, some non-traditional congregations continue to put up strong resistance as they insist on abstinence and fidelity.

"One study that was done revealed that while the Church is prepared to deal with issues around treatment, they were not prepared to deal with prevention and several other elements of the HIV response," said Ivan Cruickshank, executive director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC) Coalition, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that provides services for persons with HIV.

He told a Gleaner Editors' Forum at the newspaper's North Street offices last Thursday that, at the outset, several churches had opposed the message of condom use to prevent the spread of HIV. However, he noted that with increasing evidence of persons contracting HIV within the Church, some congregations have shifted their positions.

"While abstinence is an ideal, and being faithful is another component of that ideal, encouraging people to use condoms was very important as part of the prevention strategy," Cruickshank asserted.

He said that several NGOs had embarked on an initiative spearheaded by the Pan Caribbean Partnership on HIV to combat HIV stigma within the Church. The CVC executive director disclosed that some faith-based leaders had been looking at the issue of stigma and discrimination within the Church.

Cruickshank said that CVC research has shown that the Church was a critical point for stigma and discrimination. He disclosed that in Jamaica, a steering committee was set up recently, comprising several faith-based leaders, including non-traditional ones. He said that they had already developed a comprehensive work plan that would be rolled out locally and in other Caribbean countries.

He said that, to date, the CVC had trained 36 faith-based leaders across the Caribbean, including some from Jamaica, to deal with issues of discrimination as it related to persons within the Church who are living with HIV.

However, Jumoke Patrick, executive director at the Jamaican Network of Seropositives (JN+), said that many traditional churches had established partnerships with NGOs that worked with persons who had contracted HIV.

"They invite us into their spaces to help to combat the notion that HIV looks a particular way, sounds a particular way and dresses a particular way."

Patrick said that at times the Church reveals a person's HIV status in breach of a commitment to keep the information confidential.

"If it becomes a situation where it is now shared with others, without my permission, then it's a violation of my rights and my dignity, and then that affects me, and I may not want to be a part of that congregation and want to move out of the community," he added.