Churches join AIDS battleThursday, November 24, 2005 – 12:27 pm
Source: Guyana Chronicle
REGIONAL church organisations which met here for two days to, among other issues, identify challenges relating to HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination and define a role in which they can make their contributions, have deemed the meeting a success.
To this end, a collective decision was taken that a working committee will be formed soonest and a plan of action developed, officials said at an end-of-conference media briefing yesterday at the conference venue, Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel.
The conference dubbed Champions for Change II and held under the theme “Reduce HIV/AIDS Stigma and Discrimination”, was convened by the CARICOM-coordinated Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) in collaboration with the British Department for International Development (DFID).
Among those sharing the head table at the media briefing were Reverend Mc Donald Sembereka of Malawi; Mr Loris Heywood of the Georgetown Ministers Fellowship and Guyana Evangelical Churches; Mr Gerard Granada, General Secretary of the Caribbean Council of Churches (CCC); Dr Linda Banks, CCC Anguilla; Minister of Health in St Lucia and Chairman of the Champions for Change Planning Committee, Mr Damian Greaves; CARICOM Assistant Secretary-General for Human and Social Development, Dr Edward Greene; Mr Sheik Mohamed Ali, representative of the Muslim Organisation, Trinidad and Tobago; Father Harcourt Blackett, Barbados Inter-Religious Organisation; Ms Merle Ali of the Pentecostal Assembly of the West Indies and Reverend Canon Gideon Byamugisha of Uganda.
Canon Byamugisha is the first practicing priest to break the “silence” by declaring his HIV status more than a decade ago.
According to Mr Greaves, the conference in addition resolved to
** continue to lift our voices against stigma and discrimination in order to break down barriers between people and with institutions
** commit ourselves at the leadership and other levels to stay informed about the HIV/AIDS pandemic and to inform our membership in order to strengthen our response
** commit ourselves to cooperate with and actively support governmental, non-governmental and other agencies in collaboration with People Living with HIV/AIDS in efforts to prevent HIV/AIDS and to provide care, support and treatment to people infected with, and affected by HIV/AIDS
** affirm that we will constantly reflect on the moral, spiritual and ethical issues raised by the pandemic; clarify and interpret these issues in their local context; and offer guidance to those confronted by difficult choices at the personal and programmatic levels
** engage the emerging theological and educational developments at a time when HIV/AIDS is an imminent threat to all
** engage our respective faith-based organisations in at least one programme of action which will contribute to victory over this pandemic
** nominate the Caribbean Council of Churches, in collaboration with CARICOM/PANCAP, to establish a working committee to carry forward the elements of the Plan of Action arising from the Champion for Change Regional Conference.
Declaring that the conference has made an indelible mark, he said they can make an even greater contribution.
Dr Greene explained that while a date has not been fixed for the committee to be formed, it nevertheless is to submit a report in six months followed by a progress report to be presented to the Pan-Caribbean Partnership Annual General Meeting, to be convened in October 2006.
According to him, the working sessions of the conference saw five groups brainstorming specific aspects of taking action towards reducing stigma and discrimination and to this end three components were addressed.
These involved the global aspect of the problem and factors that must be put in place; the national aspect which includes community and individual factors and behaviour change and the need for building partnerships across faith-based denominations.
The need for training within the organisations and to agree on strategies for care, treatment and counselling, along with establishing services and infrastructure to mobilise the community to change values and attitudes, were also identified.
The conference was a follow-up to one held in St Kitts and Nevis last year. (WENDELLA DAVIDSON)