Faith-based organizations and civil society groups are being urged to do more to help fight stigma and discrimination against certain groups of persons considered more vulnerable to contracting the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which leads to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
On the occasion of World AIDS Day yesterday, the Director of the HIV/AIDS Commission, Jacqueline Wiltshire-Gay, said while church groups and other faith-based organizations have been helping to fight the spread of HIV they could do more to fight discrimination against sex workers, lesbian, gays, bisexual and transgender people.
Wiltshire-Gay spoke at an HIV discrimination seminar where she shared the preliminary results of an October 2014 to March 2015 study which examined stigma and discrimination experienced by gay men. She said the groups most at risk of contracting the illness were “men generally, men who have sex with men and sex workers”.
“We recognize that this has been driven by a tremendous social stigma which is based on a social disapproval of homosexual activity and the fear that has grown up in HIV being associated with men who have sex with men,” the HIV/AIDS Commission director said.
“HIV prevention programmes and services unfortunately now reach less than 10 per cent of the men who have sex with men. It means that this, combined with existing structural barriers including criminalization, is one of the hurdles we need to get over if our programmes are to be successful,” she pointed out.
Wiltshire-Gay told Barbados TODAY one of the barriers preventing church groups from doing more work to help the fight against stigma and discrimination was “because they will tell you the Bible says this about homosexuality and it is an abomination and all that”.
“We are not a part of that moral landscape that they are talking about. Our mandate is to reduce the incidence of HIV and that is the business that we will pursue.” she said, adding it was about time that churches see their role as more than just providing a charity “to something more which is teaching dignity and respect among their congregations and, in this way, help to reduce that stigma”.
“If we cannot get that stigma and discrimination reduced, we are going to continue to see rising prevalence among groups like men who have sex with men, because it is a fear. They don’t want to come forward, they don’t want to identify, they don’t want to take up the services, and even if they are diagnosed, they don’t want to go into care because they are afraid that if people found out, what they would say and what will happen to them,” explained Wiltshire-Gay.
In relation to civil society organizations, she said they tended to prefer to work with youth and were less willing to work with other groups, such as sex workers and men who have sex with men.
“So we have to find strategies to reducing stigma and discrimination and find ways of encouraging more and more groups and more and more churches to work with us.” (MM)