WASHINGTON - The NAACP has just issued a call to action to the faith community to champion the importance of HIV testing and prevention in their respective congregations and communities.
"We need to acknowledge that, in America, health is a true civil right. It is essential that we enlist leaders from every corner of society to fight back against a disease that is devastating our community," said Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP. "Normalizing the conversation about HIV/AIDS in our churches is critical to reducing the stigma, making testing a routine part of health care visits and ensuring those who test positive receive medical care earlier - all of which can curb the spread of this disease."
"Dialogue with the Black Church" is part of NAACP's ongoing two-year national initiative to address the disparate impact of HIV/AIDS in the African American community. The program will create a strategic roadmap for faith leaders to follow in helping to reduce the spread of HIV throughout his or her community. Key components include:
- In-depth assessments of the barriers and challenges faith leaders face in trying to effectively educate their congregations on HIV testing and prevention. Research to include interviews, surveys and focus groups among faith leaders in highly-impacted communities.
- Toolkits with practical, action-oriented steps, as well as best practices to shape services currently offered within communities as well as to serve as a springboard for those who may want to initiate these services.
- Personal accounts from community champions.
- Technical assistance to ensure local faith leaders can effectively implement the recommended strategies that are in line with their communities.
- New HIV-focused content and blogs on the NAACP website.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), African Americans represent 13% of the U.S. population but account for more than half of all new HIV diagnoses. 1 in 30 Black women and 1 in 16 Black men will be infected with HIV in their lifetime. One in five HIV-positive Americans - close to a quarter of a million people - have yet to be diagnosed. Alarmingly, African Americans make up the majority of the undiagnosed. Evidence shows that individuals who are unaware of their HIV status are more likely to transmit HIV and less likely to access care and treatment that could improve their quality of life. Additionally, many are diagnosed late in the course of the disease when treatment is less effective. The CDC cite the reasons for the racial disparity as not just related to race, but rather to barriers faced by many African Americans. These barriers include poverty, access to healthcare, and the social stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
The NAACP maintains a legacy of serving as a voice for persons unheard and underserved, and is therefore committed to its role as an agent of change in the domestic HIV/AIDS crisis. Faith leadership can play a critical role in changing the course of HIV/AIDS diverse communities, by reaching those who need a voice - those who are unaware of their status and those who do not think they are at risk.