By Adam, December 12th, 2014 in
Getting to Zero
On December 1 2014, PHAN celebrated World AIDS day at the Living Arts Center in Mississauga. The theme for this year’s event was “Getting to zero; Exploring the role of faith and other community leaders in achieving the United Nations goal of zero new AIDS related deaths, zero new HIV infections and zero discrimination”. The global impact of HIV is undeniable and it is currently estimated that 35 million people are living with HIV; and in Canada an estimated 71,300 people.
The event featured a Keynote speaker Dr. Munir Ahmed, who provided a global perspective through his work in Bangladesh that focused on gay, bisexual men and the transgender community. Dr. Ahmed’s work involved working with faith and other community leaders in addressing HIV related issues within these marginalized communities. His presentation summarized the importance of collaboration with Faith leaders as demonstrated in his work in a country that is 80% Muslim.
Voices from the Community
The event also featured “voices from the community” which provided perspectives from people living with HIV (PHAs) and their experiences within faith groups. Their experiences brought to the fore the following: (i)Members of faith groups often turn to their leaders and communities for supportive resources. However, this is not always possible for people living with HIV due to HIV related stigma. (ii)PHAs that choose to disclose are often ostracized from their faith communities and as such many choose not to disclose for fear of rejection and discrimination. (iii)Faith leaders are uniquely placed to address stigma associated with HIV as well as stigma associated with diverse sexualities and gender identities. (iv) Promoting the health and well being for members of faith groups is important for HIV prevention especially if social supports are provided, awareness about HIV is raised and opportunities for dialogue are created.
Engaging Faith Leaders
Also featured at the event were panel discussions with faith leaders. Our panelists were Pastor Orville Browne, Rev Ted Brown and Sheikh Habeeb Alli. The discussions focused on the role that faith leaders play in addressing health and social issues affecting members of their communities. The panelists presented on the opportunities and challenges they have faced in addressing HIV and how they have worked to overcome challenges. In his contribution to an interview with the Brampton Guardian, on the involvement of the Faith Community, Pastor Cornelis Des Bouvrie said, “We can longer afford to think the problem does not exist. We (faith groups) may all have different doctrines but we can still find common grounds and meet. I believe we can hold on to our doctrines and beliefs and find common values such as compassion and work together to eliminate HIV”. This was a theme that resonated throughout the panel discussions. The panelists encouraged community organizations to continue to foster dialogue on HIV with faith groups and leaders in order to find a common ground for ongoing collaboration in addressing HIV prevention and providing supports for people living with HIV. The world AIDS day event provided us with a platform to build on our commitment of engaging faith communities in addressing HIV.
>> Read more on this topic in the Brampton Guardian
We wrapped up the night with a candle light vigil where we had the opportunity to remember those that we have lost, those living with and those affect by HIV.