Faith-based Anti-stigma Initiative Towards Healing HIV/AIDS – Project FAITHH
Project FAITHH is a four-year study, funded by the CDC’s Minority AIDS Research Initiative, to conduct and evaluate an HIV/AIDS anti-stigma related intervention among 12 African-American congregations in rural Alabama. The overall goal of the project, “Faith-Based Anti-Stigma Initiative Towards Healing HIV/AIDS,” or Project FAITHH, is to decrease both individual and community-wide stigma in these congregations.
The investigative team will conduct a seven-week anti-stigma intervention that has been adopted by the Christian Council of Ghana (CCOG) in Ghana, Africa and compare their findings to other standard HIV/AIDS curriculum or churches who do not receive HIV/AIDS education. Project activities in the targeted congregations will include measuring changes in HIV/AIDS knowledge, as well HIV/AIDS-related stigma.
Four ministerial liaisons representing different denominations and organizations will assist Foster and Gaskins in their research: the Rev. Chris Spencer, assistant director of UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships and pastor of St. Matthew-Watson Missionary Baptist Church in Boligee; the Rev. Sam Gordon III, pastor of Macedonia CME Church in Goshen; the Rev. Willie Smith, pastor of New Salem Christian Church in Hayneville, AL; and the Rev. John Meeks, a member and former president of the New Era Baptist Conference. Other partners include the Alabama/NW Florida Regional Minister of Disciples of Christ and the Alabama Consumer Advisory Board, whose membership includes HIV-positive individuals.
In addition to decreasing stigma and increasing HIV knowledge, Project FAITHH hopes to increase the number of HIV/AIDS prevention activities in which congregation members participate, as well as increase the number of HIV positive people who become members of participating churches.
Finding effective strategies to decrease HIV/AIDS-related stigma is a major challenge in HIV/AIDS prevention research, Foster said. In addition, few strategies have been tested in rural African-American communities in the Deep South, particularly among faith-based leaders and their congregations, where stigma may be higher.
“We know from previous research that HIV positive persons value spirituality in their overall healing process,” Foster said. “However, they have often not become active members of rural congregations because of the stigma. We hope to turn that around with the study.”
Because stigma has also been addressed as a reason for the slow response of African-American church leadership to participate in prevention activities within their congregations and communities, “Strategies to decrease HIV/AIDS-related stigma, particularly among African-American church leaders such as pastors, is believed to be a strategy that could increase HIV/AIDS prevention activities in the African-American community in the rural Deep South,” Foster said.
Foster and Gaskins have conducted research on stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. In particular, they have focused on HIV/AIDS-related stigma in rural African-American communities, stigma of HIV/AIDS in older, rural African-Americans living in the South, disclosure issues among rural African-American men infected with HIV, and faith-based approaches to HIV/AIDS prevention.