Faith communities and faith-based organizations have a long history of caring for children and adolescents living with and affected by HIV. However, these efforts have not been well documented and hence their contributions have not been well understood nor resourced. Until now.
UNAIDS and PEPFAR have co-published the Compendium of Promising Practices on the Role of African Faith Community Interventions to End Paediatric and Adolescent HIV which goes a long way to addressing this dearth of information. The Compendium documents 41 promising practices that provide evidence of the core roles that faith communities have played in identifying undiagnosed children living with HIV, improving continuity of treatment, supporting adolescents to access psychosocial support, care and treatment, and enabling peer support groups to empower children and adolescents living with HIV. It also documents how faith leaders have driven advocacy to tackle stigma and discrimination and pushed governments for targets to be achieved. Some specific promising practices include:
- In Zambia, by expanding integrated health service delivery through Health Posts within places of worship, more children were identified when tested for HIV in faith community sites compared with those tested in non-faith community sites, averaging 15% and 7%, respectively, for the semi-annual period in the 2021 Financial Year.
- In Nigeria, a congregation-based approach to HIV testing in pregnant women, using Baby Showers, found the intervention improved HIV testing among pregnant women (with 93% linkage) and their male partners, who were 12 times more likely to know their status, compared with partners of women giving birth who had not participated in the intervention.
- Religious leaders and faith-based organizations in several countries have enrolled as Faith Paediatric Champions and have strengthened community engagement through teams sometimes – Christian and Muslim – including religious leaders, youth leaders, as well as men’s and women’s group leaders. Faith Paediatric Champions have advocated to governments and community members for all children and adolescents to be supported to access HIV care and treatment.
The Compendium showcases the transformative impact of faith-based approaches, highlighting innovative strategies, programmes, and interventions that have saved lives and nurtured the well-being of young individuals. By combining the power of faith with evidence-based interventions, these organizations have created a synergy that reaches far beyond medical treatment. They have fostered a sense of belonging, love, and support, creating safe spaces where children and adolescents affected by HIV can find solace, guidance, and empowerment.
The global response to end AIDS in children continues to be inadequate. Every hour eleven children die of AIDS. 1.7 million children are living with HIV and while three quarters (76%) of adults living with HIV are on treatment, only half (52%) of children are. Children living with HIV are even more vulnerable than adults: while children constitute 4% of people living with HIV, they represent 15% of AIDS-related deaths. In their Foreword to the Compendium Winnie Byanyima, the Executive of UNAIDS and John Nkengasong, US Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy say: “It is a disgrace that the world is not on track to end AIDS in children” and they describe the inequality between adults and children as “heartbreaking.”
However, they also issue a rallying call: “We can end AIDS in children. We must end AIDS in children. Together, we will end AIDS in children. This informative, inspiring, Compendium will be used to save and change children’s lives.”