Representatives of several regional faith-based organisations (FBOs) have enhanced their capacity to become more active participants in the multi-sectoral response to HIV.

Over the past two days, they participated in a Barbados Evangelical Association (BEA) and National HIV/AIDS Commission (NHAC) workshop at Almond Bay, Hastings, which sought to strengthen FBOs as partners in HIV prevention efforts.

The 50 participants examined their competence as it related to stigma and discrimination, advocacy and prevention, including behaviour change communication programmes, as well as forging alliances with Barbados’ faith-based partners.

Director of the NHAC, Jacqueline Wiltshire-Gay, noted that FBOs played a crucial role and that people depended on that spiritual bond from their various faiths.

"The world has battled with HIV for nearly 30 years, something unimaginable when HIV was initially discovered in the early 1980’s. Experts back then were quite optimistic that a vaccine would be available two years later. Today, the global community is still searching for a cure and if there was any time in modern history that we needed to call on that awesome influence of faith-based organisations, it is now," she said.

Vice President of the BEA, Bishop Winston Clarke, stressed it was paramount that FBOs joined in the fight against stigma and discrimination, promote advocacy and embrace behavioural change communication. According to him, "while we embrace the concept that ultimate behavioural and lifestyle change is a transformation which results from the renewal of the mind, we need to speak to alternate methodologies if we are to give full effect to the realisation of the National HIV policy on HIV and AIDS".

UNAIDS Representative, Reeta Bhatia, challenged FBOs not to be complacent in their endeavours, noting that HIV was driven by social factors which included poverty, the unequal status of women, and ostracising of particular groups, including people who are living with HIV and AIDS, men who have sex with men, drug users and sex workers.

"We need faith-based groups to play an expanded role – not just in delivery of care, but in leadership, to address those social factors which make people vulnerable and fuel the epidemic. Faith-based groups should be leaders in their effort to protect women and girls from infection, in standing up for the dignity and rights of marginalised groups, and in providing honest education about HIV," Miss Bhatia observed.

Instructor of the two-day session was BCC Consultant, Pauline Russell-Brown, she encouraged the participants to continue to be more active in the response to HIV, enhance their leadership and build capacity to strengthen civil society towards meaningful engagement in the HIV response.?? She also urged them to broaden the existing partnerships among FBOs nationally and sub-regionally, noting that they were important channels by which HIV prevention messages could be propelled.

Author: National HIV/AIDS Commission

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