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Church Groups Congregate to Reduce Stigma and Lift Spirits

A group of men outside a church

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To challenge stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS, NUMAT (Northern Uganda Malaria, AIDS and TB) is implementing "Channels of Hope," a curriculum to mobilize faith communities to respond to HIV and AIDS in a positive way.

The PEPFAR-supported 3-day workshop targets religious leaders and is designed to empower them with knowledge on HIV and AIDS prevention, care, and support so they can further support members of their congregation. After challenging their attitudes, the hope is that these grass roots religious leaders will use their positions and influence to reduce stigma, build support groups and mobilize positive congregational response.

The first signs of change are already evident in Bobi subcounty, Gulu district, where three religious leaders from the Anglican, Catholic and Pentecostal denominations came together in their communities after attending a Channels of Hope workshop.

These religious leaders started by forming congregational HIV and AIDS Task Teams where three people in each of their congregations were trained to plan and implement HIV and AIDS activities at the community level.

Together, they created awareness about HIV prevention, and encouraged other to get tested. They networked with Gulu Youth Centre, Good Samaritan and local NGOs to conduct voluntary counseling and testing outreaches in the community. Over 200 people were tested and about 100 of those testing positive declared their status. This group then formed support groups at the congregational level.

The support group also mobilized to construct a shelter for one person, while others with HIV are supported with food and access to care and treatment --including ARVs and treatment for opportunistic infections.

HIV positive and discordant couples are also reaching out to other couples through home visits; when positive, these couples help them learn to cope with the results and live positively without breaking down the family.

Other sectors of the community are beginning to offer support as well. For example, a head teacher in one primary school even offered free classroom to enable them to carry out more sensitization sessions.