BATTLING HIV/AIDS STIGMA AND DISCRIMINATION

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The Barbados Evangelical Association (BEA), the national umbrella body of several denominations and agencies here, is seeking to develop a 30 to 90-day action plan which would “increase HIV and AIDS awareness in churches”.

The BEA, will on Saturday, January 06 host a symposium at the Dove Convention Centre to formulate such a document.

BEA President, Dr. Nigel Taylor believes the Church must be privy to relevant information on various issues if it is to effectively deal with them. “We have had many programmes in the past but one of the concerns of the executive is the whole HIV/AIDS pandemic. I am hoping that this symposium will serve as a catalyst.

“There are short and long-term action plans for HIV/AIDS facilitation and awareness in the churches; eventually we can give you a blue print but it has to come down to the individual church leaders and congregations to develop additional action plans.”

Saturday’s symposium is not limited to BEA members alone. “Invitations have gone out to all religious ministers; we have invited community-based groups, people who are affected and infected with HIV. I deliberately did this because even though there might seem to be a notion of denominational, religious or theological differences, when it comes to social issues like HIV/AIDS this should not be the case,” Dr. Taylor said.

He further stated that when HIV was first discovered it was viewed by some as a “death sentence”; however, years of research and education have proved such a view a myth. “Today, we have persons who are HIV positive who can outlive persons who are not HIV positive because of the necessary antiretroviral therapy. I strongly believe the Church must be in a position to clearly articulate itself and to put systems in place to deal with HIV and AIDS.”

Dr. Taylor said even though there was a lack of a vaccine for HIV, the church membership had to be active in reducing incidents of stigma and discrimination.

“We believe that if we can get persons to understand the importance of having teachings, education, behavioural change and the part prevention will play in averting suffering and death it could reduce government’s massive cost of antiretroviral therapy,” he added.

The symposium will focus on reducing stigma and discrimination.  Topics  include: the importance of human sexuality when discussing HIV/AIDS; sexual practices and risk perceptions among Barbadian teenagers; the link between the Church and media to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS, and confronting stigma and discrimination- reference to the bible study.

Dr. Taylor said it must be noted that man was a sexually-oriented creature and there was a need to seriously look at the importance of human sexuality. “On Saturday, we will deal with it in the context of HIV/AIDS, the second topic we will be looking at is the sexual practices and the risk perceptions,” he added.
He noted that from his observations, teenagers, in particular, were at a point in their lives where being “caught between mid-waters” and such a topic was timely.
 
“If you define a teenager from psychology, he or she is too young to be an adult but too old to be a child. We say in psychology that his life is now crystallizing, he or she is unaware and maybe cannot understand all of these hormone imbalances and the reactions that come with them.

“We will also examine the sexual risk perceptions and practices among Barbadian teenagers because the Barbadian teenager is also a ‘church teenager’ and you cannot separate them, you just cannot,” he said.

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