Churches reducing HIV stigma
In Malawi, there are still high levels of stigma and discrimination against
people living with HIV. This makes people afraid to access HIV testing, treatment and support.
The Livingstonia Synod AIDS Programme (LISAP) brings together local churches to address HIV and AIDS in our communities. One of our key priorities is to reduce stigma and discrimination. We do this by sharing detailed information in churches and communities about HIV and AIDS, and the negative consequences of stigma. We aim to create an environment where people can discuss ‘taboo’ subjects openly. We also set up peer support groups, run by HIV-positive people for others living with HIV. The church minister and elders support these groups. And we make sure people living with HIV are given positions in the church where they can teach, preach and lead, if they have these skills. They are part of the body of Christ and important to God.
Question: ‘Many churches and NGOs have feeding programmes where they simply give out food. How can we empower communities to look after the health and nutritional needs of their own children? Can you give me any examples?’ (Bing Roncesvalles, Philippines)
Answer: Poor health, malnutrition and poverty are closely linked. Food may be given out for many reasons. For example, there may be a food shortage in a district, or people may be too poor to buy enough food or the right kinds of food. So the first task is to understand the problem and its causes. Then you can find appropriate and sustainable solutions.
Food shortages in a farming area might be due to crop destruction. In this case, you might discuss with the community how to help farmers become more resilient to extreme weather conditions and how to improve crop yields. If urban poverty is the problem, you may need to focus on income generation and starting small businesses. If the problem affects only one group, such as poor growth in children under two years of age, then it will be important to identify reasons for the poor growth. These might include frequent illness due to an unhealthy environment, or poor breastfeeding and weaning practices. In this case, you may need to focus on activities such as handwashing, or training families in infant feeding.
The type of ‘empowerment’ may also vary. For example, if a local farmer tries new methods and gets better results, his experience can be shared with others. Or if some families manage to raise well grown children despite their poverty, then learning about what they do might reveal practices that other poor families can use. However, when there is a disaster or famine, it is necessary to give out food, as well as teaching people how to prepare for (and avoid) future disasters. But a feeding programme should only be a temporary ‘sticking plaster’ as it does not solve the root problem.
Answer by Dr Ann Ashworth, Emeritus Professor of Community Nutrition at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
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