Fighting HIV/AIDS stigma
THE PERENNIAL STIGMA against people living with HIV/AIDS is not an issue about which one should throw hands in the air, even as despair has appeared to be an option with the decline of several local HIV/AIDS related organizations.
The loss of the AIDS Foundation and the AIDS Hotline has been reported, while a few others seem not as active or strident as in previous years. This is not the time to be silent as discrimination continues.
Few know this better than activist Dr Henrick Ellis, who is the driving force behind the Christian ministry recently established at St Paul’s Anglican Church for people living with HIV.
That this is a welcome addition to the spectrum of AIDS care and the path to removing stigma and discrimination is to state the obvious; but its establishment and acceptance by the Bay Street-based congregation and beyond also shows there’s a place for faith-based organizations in issues related to the dreaded disease.
And it’s no coincidence that the launch of the St Paul’s ministry three weeks ago got a thumbs up from the Prime Minister, who would also have endorsed last Saturday’s Parliament Yard bipartisan sensitization exercise against AIDS discrimination and stigma.
Barbados should by now be long past the stage where we find ourselves fighting such stigma, for it has been almost three decades since Barbados had its first AIDS case. Yet here we are: far more knowledgeable about the disease than in the days when it was dubbed a strictly homosexual scourge.
But the birth of the St Paul’s ministry and calls from various individuals for the inclusion of faith-based organizations should be a wake-up call to employers, families, education authorities and others in any area where people interact; because AIDS is today as chronic as any other communicable or non-communicable disease such as cancer and diabetes, which do not evoke the same reaction.
Sadly, the negative social reaction stems strictly, in our view, from the fact that this virus is sexually transmitted and, as such, is taboo and controversial. Its victims are to be pitied but avoided like the proverbial plague.
The undeniable fact remains, however, that all who are sexually active are ultimately exposed – and that means most of us.
So where do we go from here? Will such a ministry be politely avoided in our churches as well, or will it get the same respect as ministries that cater to the shut-in and the homeless?
Secular organizations have tried to educate the masses with some success; and while faith-based entities have long known their role of pastoral care and empathy in using the example of Jesus Christ, who healed and interacted with the leprous, halt, lame and blind, they should now step up their outreach with a ministry similar to that of St Paul’s Church, and complement it with food drives, cultural productions based on stigma, and collections specifically for those living with HIV.
As Bishop Dr John Holder has affirmed: “The church must be in the vanguard of the fight against discrimination of all sorts. If we claim to believe that every person is created in the image of God, and so is a child of God, then there can be no grounds for discrimination.”