Part of the Solution: Faith-Based Responses to HIV and AIDS in Africa. 2009

Published by Family AIDS Caring Trust and Ministry of Health, Zimbabwe 2009

By Geoff Foster

Peter Piot, head of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), recently stated that the new face of AIDS is an African woman, given that three-quarters of all young Africans living with HIV are female.1 But bearing in mind the significance of faith-based HIV/AIDS responses, it might be more appropriate to assert that the new face of AIDS is an African woman of faith. Women and men of faith and the faith-based organizations (FBOs) to which they belong are increasingly establishing support and prevention initiatives to assist people affected by HIV/AIDS, especially in the most rural and impoverished regions of Africa.

Driven by compassion and a devotion to their faith, churches, mosques, and other faith-based groups and individuals in sub-Saharan Africa have responded to HIV/AIDS with spontaneous, homegrown solutions to the pressing problems lying at their doorsteps. The solutions vary wildly in scope and scale. Some are professionally run projects coordinated by large religious organizations. Many are community-level projects implemented by congregations serving a small number of beneficiaries. Individuals are also responding as a result of their faith—a person sharing food with a neighbor who is dying in a nearby hut or a traditional healer advising a client on how to avoid HIV infection. For the most part, the work of FBOs and individuals continues unnoticed by governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and international organizations.

This chapter outlines the dimensions of and describes the characteristics of FBO HIV/AIDS initiatives, utilizing where possible evidence from published studies. It explains why FBO initiatives remain poorly understood and receive insufficient support from government sectors and development organizations. The chapter concludes with lessons learned in mainstreaming FBO HIV/AIDS initiatives, suggesting ways in which external agencies can strengthen faith-based HIV/AIDS initiatives and help them align with accepted best practices and public-health strategies.

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