The HIV Response in Goa by Faith Leaders

Catholic faith leaders got together to discuss the response from the faith community to HIV in Goa on the side-lines of the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial on 19th May at a memorial service organised by the Human Touch Foundation at Margao.

Delivering the opening remarks, Peter F Borges, Founder of the Human Touch Foundation, said, ‘Religious leaders can have a massive impact within their communities in the fight against HIV. With its considerable presence and reach, the Church can help to shape government policies and advocate for better access to healthcare from the government. In addition, religious leaders can talk to and inform their own faith communities. The Church is a powerful agent to change individual beliefs and values.’ Peter called for faith leaders to give and set examples and shape attitudes about HIV.

Narrating her experiences of addressing HIV during the outbreak of the epidemic, Sr Lourenca Marques said that even today faith leaders are lagging behind and have a key role to play in increasing access to HIV testing and treatment, breaking the silence and stigma, promoting human rights, and building bridges between people and communities affected by HIV.

Explaining the plans of the Human Touch Foundation, Sr Crina Cardozo talked about initiating programmes to reduce stigma and promote HIV testing in Goa through the involvement of faith leaders in line with the campaign of the World Council of Churches, leading by example. She stressed that faith leaders should demonstrate to the faith community that HIV is still present and does not need or deserve stigma. Further, she called on faith leaders to share positive messages such as preaching sermons about the importance of testing and treatment in order to prevent discrimination within their communities.

During the dialogue, participants addressed the realities of how stigma and discrimination are perpetuated both in religious communities and society at large. Fr Paul Alvares who heads the Conference of Religious of India – Goa Chapter gave the assurance that various heads of religious congregations in Goa would be brought together and their engagement sought towards a joint collaboration to end HIV in Goa by 2030 with engagement and dialogue with the government.

An adolescent living with HIV also recounted her experiences when she and her friends were discriminated against and expelled from school in 2014. She shared her journey as to how they had to undergo several challenges to overcome that situation, and she called to end discrimination against children living with HIV.

The participants affirmed in their concluding statement the ‘renewed sense of urgency’ to prioritise and strengthen the response to HIV. They pledged to commit themselves to strengthened efforts to respond to HIV in Goa, which includes acting decisively to protect human rights through collaboration and by influencing local and national decision-making processes on HIV.

A memorial service was conducted by the team of the Human Touch Foundation to honour, support, and advocate for those who have been affected by the global HIV epidemic.

The Human Touch Foundation has representation in the Global HIV Strategy Group and the International Reference Group of Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, an ecumenical initiative of the World Council of Churches - a global network of churches and related organisations committed to campaigning together on common concerns for justice and human dignity.