Faith-based organizations can play important role in response to HIV/AIDS in Central America: RAND study

January 23, 2016

RAND researchers examined the current and potential future role of faith-based organizations in HIV prevention and care in three Central American countries that, at the time the study began, had the region's highest prevalence of HIV -- Belize (2.5 percent), Honduras (1.5 percent) and Guatemala (0.9 percent). They visited the countries and interviewed officials from governmental health agencies, faith-based groups, other non-governmental organizations serving people with HIV, and bilateral assistance agencies. They also visited clinics, hospices and other HIV-related programs sponsored by faith-based organizations.

In the three countries studied, HIV affects mostly young adults, men who have sex with men and sex workers. In all three countries, but especially Guatemala, care for HIV and AIDS is not widely available, and hospitals and health care personnel with experience in the illness are located mainly in major cities.

Researchers found that governments tend to emphasize treatment more than prevention, although the need to sustain antiretroviral medication long term for those with HIV infection has not been addressed.

While researchers are optimistic about the potential for help from faith-based organizations, they recognize that substantial obstacles exist. Judgmental attitudes and limited engagement with gays, men who have sex with men and commercial sex workers may limit the effectiveness of faith-based organizations' HIV efforts. There also is no single structure that brings together all faith-based groups and this often makes coordination between faith and health sectors difficult, according to researchers.

"There is a need for greater recognition among leaders of health and faith-based organizations of the unique and complementary strength that each sector can provide to the response to HIV and AIDS," Derose said. "Public health leaders need to think creatively about ways to make effective use of the strengths and capabilities of faith-based organizations in addressing the challenges posted by the HIV epidemic."

Source: RAND Corporation