Faith leaders must play a critical role in the response to HIV.
This was the observation of Director of the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS [PANCAP], Mr. Dereck Springer, as he addressed a recent national faith leaders consultation forum at the Kingston, Georgetown Marriott Hotel.
It was in recognition of the importance of faith leaders, Springer said, that PANCAP has long been making deliberate efforts to have such engagements at both the national and regional levels. He however noted that under the current global fund grant for the period 2016 – September 2019, “we have sought to accelerate the faith leaders’ response.”
But prior to the commencement of that project, Springer said that “we embarked on what we called the PANCAP Justice for All programme.” This, he said, was done through initial consultations at the national level in nine countries among faith leaders, parliamentarians, youths, civil society and the private sector. The move in this direction, Springer said, was to garner from the stakeholders what they see as the existing challenges, particularly in the context of policies and legislation.
Moreover, Springer said that the Justice for All Programme seeks to affirm human rights and reduce both stigma and discrimination. He revealed that the Justice for All roadmap that was eventually developed, works in tandem with five key principals.
The five principals, he said, are: enhancing family life and focusing on those in need; increasing access to treatment and affordable medicine in recognition of the 90-90-90 targets; reducing gender inequality including violence against women, girls and adolescents; promoting prevention with special reference to sexual and reproductive health and rights including age-appropriate sexual education and the implementation of legislative reforms against related stigma and discrimination.
“So the roadmap which eventually evolved has 15 actionable elements, some of which can be implemented in the short, medium and long term,” Springer said.
Also speaking at the forum was representative of the faith leaders gathered, Bishop Michael Perreira, of the Eccles Assembly of God Church, whose appeal was “May we use this opportunity as faith leaders to commit to the task of strengthening the role of our respective faith communities in the HIV response locally and regionally.”
“I urge us to speak individually and collectively to the issue of stigma and discrimination, and to form partnerships with other groups to achieve the goal of ending AIDS by 2030,” Bishop Perreira said.
He further pointed out that the consultation was set in motion to establish the main roles of an inter-religious faith leaders’ network in Guyana with emphasis on contributing towards the end of AIDS. A move in this direction, he said, is expected to see faith leaders endorsing the declarations for fast tracking the end of AIDS; accepting the implementation of the PANCAP Justice For All roadmap in the short, medium and long term stages; working towards a joint consultation of faith leaders representatives of the key populations with a view to discussing the way forward on reducing HIV-related stigma and discrimination; consolidating the structure and functions of the Guyana national faith leaders network and identifying the lessons learned for ending AIDS from engagements with people living with HIV and with other groups such as parliamentarians, youth leaders, civil society and members of church communities.
Further, Bishop Perreira said, the forum was intended to highlight challenges for developing a viable faith leaders’ network and proposals for overcoming them. Also, the forum was one to make specific recommendations to the PANCAP coordinating unit for collaboration and support to achieve the goals of the Guyana inter-religious leaders’ network and to establish priorities and timelines to achieve the goals of this network.
Calling the forum very timely, Minister within the Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Karen Cummings, said that it comes at a time when Guyana has joined the rest of the world in implementing the ‘treat all’ initiative to end AIDS by 2030. She pointed out, however, that over the years, much work has been done by the government with collaborative support from local and international partners to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Guyana.
“Through a number of stakeholders’ engagement activities like this one, Guyana has been able to significantly reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS,” the Minister asserted.
It is expected that with the support of the faith leaders, PANCAP will be able to help Guyana and the region as a whole, to forge ahead with efforts to help reduce stigma and discrimination, which has been listed among the factors that have been negatively impacting the fight against HIV/AIDS.
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