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Keeping the Faith: African American Faith Leaders’ Perspectives and Recommendations for Reducing Racial Disparities in HIV/AIDS Infection

May 19, 2012

Keeping the Faith: African American Faith Leaders’ Perspectives and Recommendations for Reducing Racial Disparities in HIV/AIDS Infection
Source: PLoS ONE

In Philadelphia, 66% of new HIV infections are among African Americans and 2% of African Americans are living with HIV. The city of Philadelphia has among the largest numbers of faith institutions of any city in the country. Although faith-based institutions play an important role in the African American community, their response to the AIDS epidemic has historically been lacking. We convened 38 of Philadelphia’s most influential African American faith leaders for in-depth interviews and focus groups examining the role of faith-based institutions in HIV prevention. Participants were asked to comment on barriers to engaging faith-based leaders in HIV prevention and were asked to provide normative recommendations for how African American faith institutions can enhance HIV/AIDS prevention and reduce racial disparities in HIV infection. Many faith leaders cited lack of knowledge about Philadelphia’s racial disparities in HIV infection as a common reason for not previously engaging in HIV programs; others noted their congregations’ existing HIV prevention and outreach programs and shared lessons learned. Barriers to engaging the faith community in HIV prevention included: concerns about tacitly endorsing extramarital sex by promoting condom use, lack of educational information appropriate for a faith-based audience, and fear of losing congregants and revenue as a result of discussing human sexuality and HIV/AIDS from the pulpit. However, many leaders expressed a moral imperative to respond to the AIDS epidemic, and believed clergy should play a greater role in HIV prevention. Many participants noted that controversy surrounding homosexuality has historically divided the faith community and prohibited an appropriate response to the epidemic; many expressed interest in balancing traditional theology with practical public health approaches to HIV prevention. Leaders suggested the faith community should: promote HIV testing, including during or after worship services and in clinical settings; integrate HIV/AIDS topics into health messaging and sermons; couch HIV/AIDS in social justice, human rights and public health language rather than in sexual risk behavior terms; embrace diverse approaches to HIV prevention in their houses of worship; conduct community outreach and host educational sessions for youth; and collaborate on a citywide, interfaith HIV testing and prevention campaign to combat stigma and raise awareness about the African American epidemic. Many African American faith-based leaders are poised to address racial disparities in HIV infection. HIV prevention campaigns should integrate leaders’ recommendations for tailoring HIV prevention for a faith-based audience.

See: Clergy Can Fight HIV On Faith-Friendly Terms (Science Daily)

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