Role of faith-based organizations is critical for fighting HIV, says UN agency

(Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC)UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé during the workshop on HIV among migrants and refugees at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva.

The role of faith-based organizations is critical for fight HIV and AIDS the head of UNAIDS has told a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland highlighting a role often noted especially on the African continent.

UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé spoke of the challenge of HIV at a workshop on Feb. 21 on HIV among migrants and refugees.

The workshop was organized by UNAIDS, the World Council of Churches and the International Catholic Migration Commission.

"We are living in a rapidly changing and unpredictable world," said Sidibé. "From my country of Mali to Eastern Europe to South America, the right to health and the right to education is not being upheld in conflict-affected settings."

"We simply cannot think of the challenge of HIV in isolation, he continued. "We need to understand the bigger picture, and the role of faith-based organizations is very critical."

As more and more people are on the move, faith-based organizations are critical in ensuring people have access to healthcare, said Sidibé.

That is because faith-based groups reach people at the grassroots and know what people are facing in their daily lives.

"We are facing massive political upheaval everywhere, and a lack of economic opportunity for young people, mixed with democratic fatigue," he said. "We have a divide today and it is a lack of trust, and if people don't have jobs, they don't have hope."


HIV is linked to inequality and to lack of opportunity, Sidibé noted. "What I'm seeing as the biggest problem is social inequality. If you have a breakdown, what will happen is that people will not stay there."

With 68 million people forced from their homes across the world due to violence, war and conflict, in many places the bulk of health services are being provided by faith-based organizations.

"What is happening to people on the move? They are becoming victims of violence, and we really need to understand that. We need to think in a more integrated and practical way."

"We need to understand the life and journey of a migrant from a global perspective and from an individual level in order to understand the challenges they face. Legal status, documentation, proof of identity must never be reasons for denial of health and well-being," said Tim Martineau, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Programme, a.i.

While the faith sector has played an important role in the response to HIV, religious beliefs and practices have sometimes been used to justify judgmental attitudes, resulting in stigma and discrimination.

"As faith communities, we can and must do more to support migrants and refugees: to protect them from HIV and tuberculosis; to promote access to health care and prevention; and to reduce stigma, discrimination and violence," said Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general-secretary of the World Council of Churches.

The workshop showcased many examples of faith-based organizations providing services to welcome, protect, integrate and promote the rights of migrants, refugees and other people on the move.


Networks provided by mosques, churches and faith communities can form the first entry point of a refugee, migrant or displaced person into a new society.

"People trust faith groups and we can build on that to deliver community outreach, disseminate HIV prevention messages and provide HIV treatment and care services," said Michael P. Grillo, director for the Military International HIV Training Program for the U.S. Department of Defense HIV Prevention Program.

in what has become a rapidly changing and very unpredictable world.

It has long been known that the faith community plays a critical role in the providing medicine and services around it in many developing countries especially in Africa.

The Lancet medical journal in a June 6, 2015 article quoted the World Bank President James Wolfensohn saying in 2002, "half the work in education and health in sub-Saharan Africa is done by the Church...but they don't talk to each other, and they don't talk to us."

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