An African American woman learns that she is HIV-positive at the same time she learns that her sickly 2-year-old son has AIDS. Having accepted Christ a few years earlier, she fears her church family will find out and reject her. A young African American man shares how most of his mother’s friends stopped coming over to her house and no longer invited her to theirs once they learned that he had AIDS and had moved back home to get help with his care. “They acted as if she could give it [AIDS] to them just by my being in her house. They stayed away from her because of me.”

Stories like these are common. Thirty years into the epidemic, fear of being stigmatized for being infected or affected by HIV/AIDS continues to be a driving force in the continued spread of the virus within the African American community. While increasing numbers of clergy are striving to address HIV/AIDS, much work remains to be done to eliminate the denial, condemnation, isolation and shame resulting from HIV/AIDS stigma within the Black community. Toward this end, culturally specific information on transmission, prevention, risk reduction, testing and treatment must become the norm within our everyday conversations just as other conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes are.

The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Pennsylvania Prevention Project and the Allegheny Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church have partnered to address HIV stigma within the church through the faith-based initiative “Be the Change: HIV/AIDS Faith-Based Anti-Stigma Campaign.” The key message of this campaign is, “It’s not who you are but what you do that places you at risk of HIV infection.” A highlight of this project is the creation and placement of hand fans, featuring clergy and their spouses, with HIV anti-stigma messages within church sanctuaries. Additionally, the partnership has designed culturally specific and age-appropriate workshops for clergy and lay persons. These in-depth workshops include: Establishing Effective Health Ministries, HIV/AIDS Basics, Seniors and HIV/AIDS and HIV/AIDS and African American Youth. Special Me, Changing Me is a workshop offered for adolescents, and Decision Making in the Age of HIV/AIDS is available for teens.

To request a faith-based HIV/AIDS workshop from a public health perspective, contact Debra Dennison at 412-383-3137. For more information on HIV/AIDS:

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