Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs Cynthia Forde says the role of faith-based organizations is critical in the fight to end HIV AIDS by the year 2030.
In fact Forde, who was addressing the two-day Barbados National Faith Leaders Consultation at the Raddison Hotel last week Friday, instructed the church to lead by example in efforts to extinguish the ugly stigma attached to citizens who are HIV positive.
“We need the church leaders to lead, to educate, embrace, dedicate and demonstrate that love and compassion so that people know you can still come to church and have nothing to worry about, because the church accepts all of us.
“One of the daunting challenges of national HIV responses all over the world is the significant challenge of HIV related stigma and discrimination. Sometimes the church [does] discriminate. It is all over the place, but I’m sure that these [sensitizing] sessions would beat those negative thoughts and actions that may want to impact and make people get depressed and go to the extreme of taking their own lives,” she said.
Ms Forde stressed that faith based organizations are relevant to the fight especially if Barbados is to meet the agreed fast-track target of delivering an AIDS free generation by 2030.
“Officials from the national AIDS programme have advised me this is an achievable goal [and] to be successful we would need all sectors of our society and our partners to play their part. We are counting on all of you to help us in this fight. We are one people that God has made in his image so we must come together and make a difference in the lives of others,” she remarked.
Ms Forde noted that senior citizens are also at risk in terms of contracting the HIV virus.
“Our seniors and elderly must also be focused [on] since they are vulnerable and targeted by many. Our elderly are also coming into the equation, so I want the faith-based [organizations] to talk to them, guide and help them on how they should be having relationships and [how to] avoid getting the disease.”
Deputy Principal of the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus Professor Clive Landis said based on science he believed the world could see an end to AIDS.
He added that once treated, persons living with the disease will be unable to transmit it, but argued that persons are afraid to find out if they are HIV positive or negative.
“We will eliminate HIV from our country if we can provide an environment where people feel comfortable to be tested and are able to access treatment. Then we will treat our way out of the disease,” he said.
The consultation, which was funded by the European Union, was held to establish the main goals for an inter-religious faith leaders network in Barbados with emphasis on contributing toward the end of AIDS.