Faith Communities Called To Join In HIV/AIDS Education and Treatment Awareness Efforts

National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day seeks to have communities work together to support education, treatment, and eliminate stigma around HIV/AIDS.

August 29, 2020 | 2 min reading time

National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NFHAAD) stands to unite communities of faith with communities of persons living with HIV/AIDS. Founded in 2017 and observed on the last Sunday in August, NFHAAD seeks to have these groups work together to support HIV/AIDS education, treatment, care, and eliminate the stigma around HIV/AIDS. This year, NFHAAD has been recognized by HIV.gov, the federal government’s leading source of information about HIV.

In 2018, 6,320 people in the City of St. Louis lived knowing about their HIV positivity. On World AIDS Day 2019 (December 1), the City of St. Louis became a member of the Fast-Track Cities along with Saint Louis County. This initiative aims to reach a target of 90-90-90, meaning 90% of persons living with HIV know their status, 90% of HIV+ persons seek treatment, and 90% of persons being treated have suppressed viral loads.

“Recognizing the impact our brothers and sisters in faith communities have throughout the city and region is vital to reducing the number of new HIV cases and providing treatment to those living with HIV/AIDS,” says Dr. Matifadza Hlatshwayo, co-chair of Fast-Track Cities St. Louis.

Earlier this year, Dr. Fredrick Echols, acting director of health for the City of St. Louis, contacted several faith leaders in the metropolitan area to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic. Through these conversations, the Department of Health formed its Clergy Advisory Board to share COVID-19 and other public health-related information and resources to improve health outcomes in the city.

“Working with leaders in the city’s faith communities helps us reach residents where they are, to provide resources, screening opportunities, and education on preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections (including HIV) and living with HIV/AIDS,” says Dr. Fredrick Echols, acting director of health for the City of St. Louis. “Providing these resources, regardless of religious preferences, helps reduce stigma and misinformation and empower the entire community.”

Collaborating with these trusted and influential leaders of faith presents an opportunity for the Department of Health and the clergy board’s medical advisors to reach segments of the population with public health information and other resources that in the past have been difficult to reach. It also assists with reducing negative attitudes around health conditions like HIV and AIDS and those who live with the virus. Educating a congregation on HIV/AIDS can begin decreasing stigma around the virus and those living with it by diminishing fears of acquiring HIV.

“Connecting our faith communities with public health guidance, including ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic, allows us to share messages of prevention, treatment, and support throughout the community,” says Dr. Kanika Turner, a member of the Clergy Advisory Board.

“One of the ways the Metropolitan Community Church of Greater Saint Louis (MCCGSL) has raised awareness of HIV in the pews during this pandemic is by continuing to hold our services only online,” says Pastor Wes Mullins. “One way that we can stand in solidarity with those who have any pre-existing conditions or are immuno-compromised is by having everyone in our congregation worship together by worshipping apart.” Pastor Mullins is planning to discuss National Faith HIV AIDS Awareness Day during this Sunday’s message at MCCGSL’s 11:00am virtual service.

The City of St. Louis Department of Health provides HIV testing at no-cost through its Health Stop Testing and Referral Center, inside the 1520 Market building. Services are provided Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from 8:30am-4:30pm and Wednesdays from 9:00am-6:00pm. In honor of National Faith HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, an additional testing opportunity is available this Sunday from 1:00pm to 4:00pm.

Nationally, NFHAAD activities are being held virtually throughout the weekend. A schedule of events is available at National Faith HIV & AIDS Awareness Day Events.

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