Steve Fouch

Keeping faith with HIV

Steve Fouch is CMF Head of Communications. He has worked in community nursing, HIV & AIDS and palliative care. He serves on the International Board of Nurses Christian Fellowship International.
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of CMF.

Religious, secular, governmental and international bodies came together at Lambeth Palace this week to discuss the impact and relevance of faith based responses to HIV and AIDS.

In the face of an ongoing financial meltdown in the West, and collapsing economies in many developing nations, the sustained global effort to tackle the HIV pandemic has recently looked in doubt.  This is ironic, because for the first time since AIDS was recognised in the early eighties, there is good news.  The global effort to turn back the pandemic is working. New infection rates are down, more people than ever are on treatment, and as a result the death rate from AIDS related causes is decreasing.

It was with this in mind that the question: ‘Why does faith have a role in the response to his pandemic?’ was tackled. If Richard Dawkins in his latest book is to be believed, religion in any form should play no role in public life and civil society.  However, the reality is that most of the world’s poor have a religious outlook on life, and for them the spiritual dimension is as real and relevant as economic targets and indicators are to the World Bank.  The spiritual dimension lies at the heart of all faith based responses to HIV, and it is one of the distinctive approaches we can bring.

A report launched at Monday’s conference called for the global community to recognise and support the role of faith based groups and communities in their response to HIV.  Faith based organisations can often access groups inaccessible to other organisations, and can affect change in attitudes and behaviour by reference to scriptures and theology – routes not open to secular bodies.

But it is a hard message to get across. Most aid agencies, major donors, governments and UN institutions come from a largely secular, onhealthy fosamax Western mindset, in which faith is relegated to the private sphere.  While that perspective is slowly changing, it is also true that some religious leaders and groups hold strongly conservative opinions that put them in diametric opposition to the views of the wider international community.  And while some of this is down to shaky theology and can and should be challenged, and some is down to a misunderstanding and confusion over the use of language (which also can and should be overcome), sometimes it is because there are fundamentally different values between the religious and secular worldviews.  There are times when we have to agree to disagree and go our separate ways.  But there are times when we can and should work together for the greater good.

Research suggests that while faith based responses and health interventions are not necessarily better or worse than more secular ones, they are often more valued and appreciated by people in developing nations.  Often, the key difference is that the spiritual needs of the individual or community is being addressed.  This is the other ‘added value’ that we can bring.

But also, as HIV starts to slip off the global agenda and as funding for treatment, care, support and prevention faces cuts, it is vital that those at the coalface get support.  Many faith communities are dealing with HIV and AIDS on a day-to-day basis.  The Christian church in particular has, in all its varied forms, a presence in so many of the communities affected by HIV and AIDS in Africa in particular, often dealing with the reality of its own congregations and leaders living with HIV and AIDS.  If the global community begins to forget the struggles faced by these communities, then the wider, global church cannot and must not.

Posted by Steve Fouch
CMF Head of Allied Professions



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