The African and Caribbean Council on HIV/AIDS in Ontario (ACCHO)
In Ontario, African, Caribbean and Black communities are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS.
While living with HIV is no longer a death sentence because of the availability of highly effective treatments and quality care, many people still face stigma and discrimination, which negatively impacts their quality of life.
African, Caribbean and Black faith and spiritual leaders are very influential within their communities and often have a leadership role that extends beyond their specific communities/congregations.
This is why on this December 1, World AIDS Day, the African and Caribbean Council on HIV/AIDS in Ontario (ACCHO) has chosen to highlight its newest strategy — ‘It Takes Courage’ — to address HIV-related stigma in/with faith and spiritual communities.
What is ‘It Takes Courage’?
“I had to leave my church because I did not feel safe going there. I didn’t feel safe for my mother…”, revealed a person living with HIV.
‘It Takes Courage’ addresses HIV-related stigma by encouraging more welcoming African, Caribbean and Black faith-based and spiritual communities. This strategy, which was launched in February 2017, is meant to increase access to accurate HIV-related information for faith and spiritual communities, and help frontline workers to engage faith and spiritual communities in their work.
‘It Takes Courage’ comprises handbooks for frontline workers and faith/spiritual leaders, a powerful Manifesto, a short video of faith and spiritual leaders speaking about showing courage in various contexts, a website, and promotional items.
Stigma contributes to the spread of HIV
“It’s society… it’s not HIV that kills people. It’s the stigma and discrimination and rejection that makes people go into depression and stop taking their medication… stop taking care of their health… and that’s when they get sick…”, said another person living with HIV.
A pervasive culture of silence and denial surrounds HIV/AIDS. Stigma is fueled by misunderstandings about the virus, how it is transmitted and who it affects. Fueled by people’s fear of getting sick, public shaming and indignation at perceived “immorality”, people living with HIV/AIDS are too often ignored, openly judged and harshly condemned within communities.
People living with HIV, who experience stigma—either related to HIV or other marginalized characteristics such as race or sexuality—experience anxiety, lack of social support, depression, adherence challenges to antiretroviral therapy, and are less likely to access health and social services.
Stigma not only affects the quality of life for people living with HIV, it also contributes to the spread of HIV as it may discourage individuals from getting tested for HIV because they fear a positive result and the stigma that is associated with it.
Speak out against HIV/AIDS stigma
“The ‘It Takes Courage’ strategy is important to me because through compassion, kindness and respect, we begin to create peace; first within ourselves and then in the world around us,” said a Faith leader.
HIV/AIDS can be a tough subject for faith and spiritual organizations and leaders to discuss. But if we are to dismantle the fear and challenge the prejudice that surround HIV/AIDS, we all need to stand up, speak out and educate others.
As faith or spiritual leaders, you can strengthen your commitment to stand up, speak out against HIV/AIDS stigma and lead your communities by example. A list of resources to help you create a more welcoming faith community for people living with, and affected by, HIV/AIDS can be found at www.ittakescouragenow.com.
As a person living with, or affected by, HIV/AIDS, you can support the ‘It Takes Courage’ strategy by sharing your story at local events or speaking with your local faith and spiritual leader(s) about ensuring their words, actions and initiatives are inclusive of and welcoming for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
As a member of a faith-based or spiritual community, you can speak with your leader about getting involved by sharing information about the ‘It Takes Courage’ strategy with them.
ACCHO is proud to roll out ‘It Takes Courage’ with the following organizations across Ontario: Africans in Partnership Against AIDS; AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Area; AIDS Committee of Durham Region; AIDS Committee of Ottawa; AIDS Committee of Windsor; Centre francophone de Toronto; Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention; Peel HIV/AIDS Network; Positive Living Niagara; Regional HIV/AIDS Connection; Somerset West Community Health Centre; The AIDS Network; and Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre.
ACCHO provides leadership in the response to HIV and AIDS in Ontario’s African, Caribbean and Black communities. With our partners, we strive to reduce the incidence of HIV among African, Caribbean and Black people in Ontario, and to improve the quality of life for those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS through the implementation of the Ontario HIV/AIDS Strategy for African, Caribbean and Black Communities, 2013-2018. For more information visit www.accho.ca.