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Positive Faith - a HIV resource with a difference

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Lazarus Mungure and Abigail Chakanyuka from Positive Faith

Recently a new resource was launched which tells the story of people living with and affected by HIV which offers a different kind of insight.

Positive Faith addresses HIV through the context of faith, specifically Christian faith in this instance, but the model can be used by other faiths. Funded by PHE’s HIV Prevention Innovation Fund, the resource features people prepared to talk about HIV despite the stigma, and prepared to share how they cope.

It explores how HIV, health and other personal issues come together for these individuals, and the problems and the positives of that.

I am extremely privileged to be the sponsor of this project and in this blog I wanted to explain why health professionals should take notice.

Where we are now

We are in a time when virological suppression is a major success story and many are working tirelesly to achieve the end of new HIV transmissions. With interventions such as PrEP, and antiviral therapies being taken more widely and improved testing uptake, we have come a long way from the early days of HIV, when a diagnosis came with significant ongoing problems and an early death.

However, with these successes come many challenges. Stigma, health issues which people with HIV still face, the continued battle to reduce new infections and helping people living with HIV to live long lives are all still issues.

Coping with a life-long health condition such as HIV means people must deal with psychological, social, practical and of course spiritual and existential challenges.

This project, which includes a website of resources and videos, address these issues head on. It is being delivered by Catholics for AIDS Prevention and Support, a small charity which provides direct support and care and features people from a range of Christian churches.

Why is the project needed?

People may ask why we need a faith-specific resource?  Simply because people of faith understand their health experience through that faith and for many this is still incredibly important.

We know from a growing body of scientific evidence that for people of faith, their understanding of health challenges, their coping, even their health behaviour, is profoundly influenced by and mediated through their faith. FaithAction, one of PHE’s strategic partners, recently produced a review of just this topic.

People of faith – even those who feel excluded by it – greatly understand their health experience, even down to their efforts to live with HIV or stay free from it, in a way linked to their faith.

Another key reason is that services sometimes still seem to remain squeamish, embarrassed or discomforted by the presence of faith. It’s the protected characteristic of the equality act many feel uncomfortable with.

But over 40% of people in the UK still claim a religious faith of some kind. NICE guidance and standards affirms that to personalise health care, we must recognise that we cannot treat faith as something totally private and separate. If a person of faith is in a clinical encounter, so is the issue of faith.

As a Catholic, this is my experience too. I could no more renounce my Catholic faith than I could fly unaided. And I don’t feel the need to justify why. My faith is the reason I do my job, and it’s the way I cope with life and health.

Faith is not going away. It is not dying and while you might think it’s a minority pursuit, it’s important to those of us in that minority. Positive Faith is an attempt to redress an inequity in health – that of faith and HIV.

We must do better on this as a health system and Positive Faith speaks actively into that. While churches are sometimes uncomfortable about HIV, health services equally can still feel uncomfortable about faith. We hope this new initiative will help bridge that gap.

Lastly, this is about inclusion of people with and affected by HIV in churches, and is clearly a health intervention. This is why we haven’t produced a multi-faith resource. To understand HIV in the context of a particular faith, we need to make sure we are speaking directly to them. Different faiths require different dialogue and different resources. We need to do that properly, one size will not fit all.

We certainly need resources like Positive Faith for other religions, and I hope people will use this approach as a template. But for a Christian black African woman, a gay male Christian or anyone else to understand their faith, coping with HIV or HIV prevention for themselves is to embed this effectively.

This resource sits firmly in the tradition of public health interventions to strengthen individuals and change communities, in a culturally sensitive way.

Image: Kip Loades

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