Caribbean faith leaders respond to AIDS
30 July 2007
More than 130 religious leaders from the Caribbean joined in Barbados to discuss their role in moving the AIDS response forward and the importance of breaking down AIDS-related stigma and discrimination.
The inter-faith forum concluded that to be truly effective in challenging the AIDS epidemic, faith-based organizations must open their doors to people living with HIV and people at risk of HIV.
“We have to throw our doors wide open and make everyone welcome. We should lead from the front, whether this means opening up to everyone, or being the first to get tested for HIV, said Dr Nigel Taylor, President of the Barbados Evangelical Association (BEA).
Hosted by the Barbados BEA with the Barbados National HIV/AIDS Commission and UNAIDS, the two-day forum discussed inclusion and human sexuality in the context of AIDS.
Speaking at the event, Sir George Alleyne, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean underlined that faith-based organizations should adopt a radical and realistic stance: “I ask that you include not only those persons who are known to be HIV positive or those who declare themselves to be. I will be bold enough to ask that you include those who have been excluded because their lifestyles have not conformed to what has been considered the societal norm,” he said.
AIDS claimed an estimated 27,000 lives in the Caribbean in 2006 and is now the leading cause of death in adults aged 15-44. Underlining the severity of the epidemic in the region, Dr Carol Jacobs Chair of the National HIV/AIDS Commission of Barbados said a more open approach by faith-based organizations is not only a moral imperative, but is crucial for a successful response to HIV in the Caribbean.
“We all need to pull together and we can harness the power of faith-based organizations, with all their influence in our society, to really tackle stigma and discrimination, against, for example, men who have sex with men and sex workers,” she said.
“If such groups are included, it will mean that we can all talk more freely about the virus and what we can do to prevent it without fear of anyone being condemned and left out in the cold.”
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