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Faith-based approach to HIV/AIDS reviewed

Some faith-based groups are promoting best practices for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, according to a joint report launched yesterday by the National Aids Authority and Ministry of Cult and Religion.

The report, National Review of Faith-based Responses to HIV in Cambodia, was the first nationwide government review of HIV initiatives conducted by Buddhist, Christian and Muslim groups working on HIV/AIDS.

“The review’s intention is to inspire and encourage all organisations to work with faith-based leaders to adhere to good practices,” said Ulrike Gilbert, an HIV specialist at UNICEF who worked on the report.

Dr Tep Kunthy, secretary general of the National Aids Authority, said “these include meaningfully involving people living with and affected by HIV in prevention, treatment, and impact mitigation”. Adapting programs to “the needs of marginalised community members” was also among them, he said.

Tep Kunthy said that the NAA had engaged religious communities to work with it on HIV/AIDS issues, but banned them from proselytising.

UNICEF country representative Richard Bridle echoed this view, saying the organisation “supported actions that facilitate access to health, education, or other social services and these should not be condition upon changing someone’s faith”.

A set of “good practice criteria” for faith-based groups was established in May during a consultative workshop drawing representatives from all 24 provinces. These criteria differ from the government’s national standards, which are far more detailed, experts said. Gilbert said “good practice criteria are important [to help NGOs] implement national standards”.

The report revealed that the highest-risk groups remain marginalised. “While many faith-based organisations provided HIV awareness education to the general population, fewer organisations implemented targeted HIV prevention interventions among key affected populations, such as sex/entertainment workers, men who have sex with men, transgender persons, and people who use drugs,” the report said. No faith-based organisations are working with transgender individuals, it noted.

“More needs to be done to ensure that faith-based leaders are engaged with the higher-risk populations,” Gilbert said. Dr Masami Fujita, HIV and tuberculosis team leader at the World Health Organisation in Cambodia agreed. “It’s very important for marginalised people to access social services.”



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