21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016)


The Challenges of Faith Responses to the AIDS Epidemic

July 20, 2016

Luiz Loures

Luiz Loures, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director (Credit: International AIDS Society/Rogan Ward)

A strong faith response is critical to achieving the Fast-Track Targets by 2020 and to ending AIDS by 2030. Yet effective mobilization of that response faces many unique challenges. Those challenges were the subject of a session at the 21st International AIDS Conference, being held in Durban, South Africa.

Gathering data about faith activities is often very difficult, especially in the context of the AIDS epidemic, where there are often perceptions of conflict between religious values and health priorities. Progress has been made, however, as reported in a special edition of the Lancet on faith and health care.

Presentations were made on two of the papers in the Lancet special edition: one on data and one on controversies. It was noted that faith community responses do not always match international strategy and that faith is only one of many factors contributing to issues such as child marriage, female genital mutilation, violence against women, the provision of sexual and reproductive health services and stigma related to HIV. Both speakers agreed on the importance of viewing faith-based initiatives as part of an integrated health-care system.

Issues from a community perspective were also addressed. The process of raising awareness of HIV using Muslim principles and religious texts to explore the issues was described, as was the vital role that religious leaders play in reducing the effects of stigma.

The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town described the response of his church to reports of "corrective rape," which led him to launch initiatives against gender-based violence and human trafficking. He noted that the data show that HIV prevalence among survivors of sexual violence is much higher than among the general population.

As the AIDS epidemic has progressed through history, the importance of the faith response has become increasingly apparent. Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS, described a recently launched joint initiative of UNAIDS and the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief aimed at strengthening the faith response to HIV, with the hope that faith-based initiatives will be major contributors to the community-based responses that are critical to ending the AIDS epidemic.


There is great urgency today; we have a narrow window to control the AIDS epidemic to see the end of AIDS. At least 30% of HIV service delivery needs to be delivered by communities, and the faith community has a critical role to play in delivering those services and in addressing stigma and discrimination.

-- Luiz Loures, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director

There is an evidential black hole around the role of religious organizations in health care generally, and in the AIDS response specifically. More research is needed to fill the critical gaps.

-- Jill Olivier, Senior Lecturer and Research Coordinator, University of Cape Town

Religious communities are the tipping point for successful resolution of many development challenges, including HIV.

-- Azza Karam, Senior Adviser, United Nations Population Fund

In Indonesia, responding to HIV is seen as a collective responsibility. We need to make a great effort to understand and respond to HIV through the lens of our religious texts.

-- Anggia Ermarini, Chairperson of Fatayat Nahdatul Ulama

We are all created in the image of God. We must develop life-giving theologies.

-- Phumzile Mabizela, Executive Director, International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS

HIV has profoundly challenged us as a church. Human dignity, especially the dignity of women, is non-negotiable.

-- Thabo Cecil Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town

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This article was provided by UNAIDS. It is a part of the publication The 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016). Visit UNAIDS' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.

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