The Director, Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV and AIDS, (PANCAP), Dereck Springer, Monday urged faith leaders to help fight against the stigma and discrimination being faced by persons suffering from the HIV/AIDS virus.
Addressing the Antigua and Barbuda Faith Leaders Consultation, Springer said he has generally found that the faith community provides solace and hope to those persons affected by the disease.
“And if I believe you as faith leaders have an opportunity to fully embrace health, not just HIV,” he said, urging them to become more accepting of persons with HIV/AIDS, through words, actions and constant interaction with the community.
”In addition for those who are HIV positive I think you would want to encourage them to remain on treatment. But the only way you could encourage them to share with you their HIV status is that they must hear from you, they must know from you that you will accept them irrespective of their HIV status and irrespective of who they are,” he told the conference.
PANCAP in collaboration with the Antigua and Barbuda National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS) is hosting the event, with funding coming from the CARIFORUM 10th European Development Fund (EDF) Programme of Support for Wider Caribbean Cooperation.
The conference is a follow-up to a series of engagements with faith leaders under the PANCAP Justice for All programme at the regional level.
It will facilitate the development of a national action plan for advancing faith leaders’ implementation of key elements of the Justice for All programme in Antigua and Barbuda.
The organisers said that the action plan is geared towards ending AIDS and providing psychosocial support to those infected and affected by HIV. It will also identify the lessons learned from implementing the UNAIDS Fast Track goals; establishing recommendations for improving the collaboration between the religious community and the national AIDS Programme and civil society partners, and setting priorities and timelines for achieving goals.
In his address to the conference, Bishop Rudolph Harris, the second vice president of the Antigua and Barbuda Evangelic Alliance Zion Church of God, said PANCAP and other world organisations have a vision regarding the eradication of the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030.
“Each one of us can reason that it is not very far away, it is just down the road …and it therefore demands of us that we must endeavour to get all hands on deck to see the reality of the desired expectation,” he said.