Clergy members may help curb HIV infections among African American community
The church has long been a mainstay in some parts of African American culture, acting as a community center as well as a place to practice religion. This led researchers from Brown University to examine how clergy members may be able to help lower rates of HIV infection among black individuals, who stand a substantially higher chance than their Caucasian counterparts to contract the virus.
The team published its paper in the journal PLoS ONE, and stated that it outlines the obstacles that religious leaders may encounter in talking about HIV testing and prevention, and guidelines on how to effectively promote screening and safer sex among church-goers.
"There is a common misperception that African American churches are unwilling to address the AIDS epidemic. This paper highlights some of the historical barriers to effectively engaging African American clergy in HIV prevention and provides recommendations from clergy for how to move forward," said Amy Nunn, lead author of the study and assistant professor of medicine in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
One major issue for clergy members is broaching the topic of practicing safer sex (which includes sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing and proper condom use) because churches traditionally hold the view that unmarried individuals should practice abstinence.
One pastor suggested framing HIV problems in terms of social justice rather than behavior. For example, he said that one solution could be to gather the entire congregation to get tested as a community, which sidesteps the issue of identifying individuals with risk factors for contracting the virus.
Additionally, clergy members may find it effective to take their efforts outside the church and engage in broader community campaigns.