The stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS can cause significant emotional damage. HIV/AIDS research is vital to decreasing stigma and pushing people closer to a cure. While some organizations focus more on overcoming barriers to HIV/AIDS treatment, others focus on the other half of the story: decreasing the discrimination, fear, anxiety, and overall sense of taboo that people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS experience daily. The University of Alabama recognized faith-based organizations’ role in decreasing stigma (particularly in the deep south). Their Faith-based Intervention to Heal HIV/AIDS (FAITTH) Program has given them the platform they need to make a difference.
Project FAITTH’s main goal is to “implement a faith-based HIV/AIDS anti-stigma curriculum among African American congregations to decrease both individual and congregational HIV stigma.” The pilot for this project took place at Christian Council of Ghana and included an eight-module curriculum designed for African American churches in rural Alabama. The curriculum included education on stigma, fear, and denial (SFD) surrounding HIV/AIDS. The project team targeted and decreased SFD by empowering the community, teaching cultural competence, developing skills, and promoting social action.
The project team also worked to educate pastors and church members on HIV/AIDS and encouraged them to increase HIV prevention activities and their interactions with people living with HIV/AIDS. While this project only focused on rural Alabama churches, rural churches and community-based organizations in Arkansas would also benefit from similar intervention techniques as the ones used in this project.
Project FAITHH Methodology
Project FAITTH targeted 12 predominantly African American rural churches and assigned them to one of three research arms:
- The first arm received a faith-based anti-stigma intervention.
- The second arm received standardized HIV training and education.
- The third arm received a pamphlet with no intervention.
The program had 240 total participants, and 41 people living with HIV/AIDS participated in an interview that assessed their HIV knowledge, spirituality, and internalized stigma. Eleven pastors also participated in an interview as well as stigma and HIV knowledge surveys which assessed the presence of HIV/AIDS-related primary prevention activities within their churches.
The overall results of this study were that African American churches might be well-positioned to aid in stigma reduction efforts.
Due to the success of this program, Arkansas churches and faith-based organizations should consider pursuing funding for similar intervention programs in our rural counties. A program like this would make a huge impact on the citizens of rural communities who are living with HIV/AIDS. The Project FAITHH home page provides more information on the project, including a video featuring Dr. Pamela Payne-Foster, MPH, a community medicine and public health professor from the University of Alabama. She explains how the project started, the primary goals, and the impact of this project on the rural health community.
Project FAITHH Resources
The Project FAITHH home page provides many resources that can aid in intervention and alleviation of HIV stigma.
Project FAITHH Training Manual: provides exercises and lesson plans that providers or faith-based organizations and leaders can use to teach others about HIV stigma. The manual is a detailed breakdown of each exercise, the materials needed, and the objectives/purpose of each exercise to drive the message home.
Faith-Based Intervention Module: provides a brief overview of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) as well as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) videos and prevention materials that can help educate others on HIV.
Testing Our FAITHH: an article discussing HIV stigma and knowledge after a faith-based HIV stigma reduction intervention in the rural south. The article provides background on HIV among African Americans and other minority groups and even has a multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank assessment at the end to test people’s knowledge of AIDS/HIV.
Developing an Intervention: an article discussing methods faith-based organizations and providers can use to develop stigma-reduction interventions in the south. This article provides an eight-step model that can assist in developing interventions to stop the stigma, primarily by using faith-based organizations in the south.
Talk about HIV
Many people don’t know much about AIDS/HIV because nobody talks about it in our society. Few people know how AIDS/HIV is contracted, much less the damage that discrimination and stigma do to them. Despite the fact that nobody talks about it, one of the easiest and most effective ways to lessen HIV stigma is to just open the door for discussion. In fact, some faith-based organizations provide opportunities for HIV-positive individuals to have a sounding board, a safe place where they can discuss their concerns with others who are struggling with the same things.
The CDC’s Let’s Stop HIV Together resource provides vital information that providers and patients can visit to learn more about how to lessen the stigma surrounding HIV. The page provides a breakdown of HIV stigma and discrimination, their effects on people, and steps people can take to reduce stigma. There are even video testimonials from people who are HIV-positive.
Ongoing discussions about AIDS/HIV are vital to eliminating the stigma that exists within our society. People with HIV are already dealing with enough from the virus itself. If you add the stigma and discrimination that they face on top of it, then more fuel is being added to the fire. Natural, nondiscriminatory conversations surrounding HIV and the continued development of anti-stigma interventions in faith-based organizations will further decrease the harmful stigmas and discrimination that many people with HIV face daily.