Stand up against HIV stigma among African communities, faith groups urged

Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), the HIV and sexual health charity has urged faith groups in the UK to play a leading role in fighting HIV stigma among African communities.

To mark the World AIDS Day (1st December), THT has launched its “Stand Up, Stand Out” campaign appealing to faith groups to pledge their support for people with HIV by championing the anti-stigma message.

Despite huge progress in care and treatment of HIV, many people with the condition still report being stigmatised by others who have treated them badly, discriminated against them, bullied, or even threatened them with violence.

Africans are one of the groups most at risk of HIV, accounting for the largest proportion of heterosexual diagnoses in the UK.

In 2009, a national study reported that over a third of people with HIV had experienced discrimination in the previous year. Fear of discrimination can have a profound effect, preventing people from being open about their condition, and inhibiting the discussion needed to challenge the stigma that still exists around HIV.

THT is asking faith groups to show their support for the “Stand Up, Stand Out” campaign by pledging to: Embrace people living with HIV as members of the congregation equal to any other; Provide social and spiritual support to people living with HIV; Recognise the importance of anti-retroviral medication for people living with HIV; Encourage acceptance of people living with HIV within the congregation if they choose to speak openly about their condition to others and recognise their right to confidentiality if they choose not to.

The faith leaders are also urged to keep a list of the local HIV services and refer people to these services if they need them.

Marcy Madzikanda, Health Improvement Specialist for African Communities at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “More than 30 years on from the beginning of the epidemic, HIV remains surrounded by a level of stigma unmatched by any other medical condition – this urgently needs to change. For many African people living in the UK, the church is the centre of the community. That’s why it’s so important that faith groups get behind our ‘Stand Up, Stand Out’ campaign, and lead the way in the effort to banish stigma for good.”

Ms. Madzikanda added that faith leaders can show their support this World AIDS Day in many ways including talking to their congregation about stigma, remembering those who have lost their lives to the virus, and holding a charity collection to support people living with HIV.

For further information about getting involved in Terrence Higgins Trust’s “Stand Up, Stand Out” campaign or for fundraising ideas, please visit www.tht.org.uk/worldaidsday.