The PANCAP Champions for Change Programme recognized the need for faith-based organizations to be involved in reducing the stigma and discrimination that is often time associated with HIV/AIDS. Since 2004, they have been working to achieve this in other Caribbean countries and today, they held a consultation with faith leaders here in Belize. Love News spoke with Dereck Springer, the Director of PANCAP about the initiative.
Derek Springer MPH, Director of PANCAP: “PANCAP is facilitating a consultation of faith leaders here in Belize but it’s important for me to say that this consultation was planned by faith leaders in Belize for faith leaders. PANCAP is providing the support in terms of the funding for this consultation and we are also supporting in terms of information sharing but it’s the faith leaders themselves who would have planned this. Now how did we get here ? At the regional level PANCAP has been engaged with faith leaders for a number of years recognizing the role that faith leaders must play and can play in relation to responding to the HIV epidemic. Faith leaders are used to providing comfort and open support and so how can we capitalize upon tha to address HIV and AIDS? Faith leaders are also very influential in terms of being able to influence attitudes and behaviours and therefore they can play a role in addressing the reduction of stigma and discrimination. As the Caribbean seeks to move forward to achieve the 90/90 target which is 90% of persons living with HIV become aware of their HIV status and of that 90% 90% being retained on treatment and of that 90% retainment 90% of them achieving viral suppression and UN AIDS have been able to do the kind of analysis to determine that if we do that we can end AIDS by 2030.”
Love News also spoke with Pastor Lance Lewis, the President of the National Evangelical Association of Belize.
Pastor Lance Lewis, President National Evangelical Association of Belize: “In some respects it is good because sometimes the church does not say much about sexual activity because it’s sounds like that is an area that they should not go in and I say no there should be more discussion and more dialogue about the sexual activity that is operating in our nation and can be very destructive. So we need to open our churches to forums and discussions and there is an article in there about Sunday School lessons having that part to play in this. I’m not saying that we should do all of that through Sunday School but at least some forum in church should be addressing this matter of HIV, Sex in our nation to work to minimizing it. I would say also the moral situation has to be raised that people see that this is not the right way to go just indiscriminately having sex is creating the problem. Exposure to material that is damaging to children whether it’s on phones or television or cable is creating a platform to get more persons going down the drain and I think that we have to do something from all angles both medically, from the media, from the parents, from the health services to see to get people to realize the dangers of going this way.”
Springer said that faith leaders play a critical role in breaking down the barriers so that an HIV/AIDS free Caribbean can be achieved.