Black Churches Should Support Public Disclosure of HIV/AIDS Status To Help Address Stigmas, Opinion Piece Says
The issue of blacks with HIV/AIDS feeling "comfortable enough and secure enough to openly and publicly disclose their diagnosis is real and deafening and unfortunately contributing to the denial that runs rampant in the African-American community, particularly in the Deep South," Pamela Payne Foster, deputy director of the University of Alabama School of Medicine's Rural Health Institute, writes in a Montgomery Advertiser opinion piece.
According to Foster, the "issues and barriers" surrounding public disclosure of HIV/AIDS status are "complex and multifaceted," such as the "intense misinformation and miseducation about the disease, fueled by intense stereotypes about infected persons based on 'perceived' risk factors associated with the disease, including homosexuality, substance abuse, adultery and promiscuity." In the event that an individual does choose to disclose his or her status, the "positive impact that the disclosure could have on putting a real face on HIV/AIDS is overshadowed by scrutiny and focus on how the person got the disease, rather than on preventing it in the future," she adds.
She says that a recent study she conducted with a colleague of black, HIV-positive adults over age 50 found that "organized religious institutions (i.e., the church) topped the list of where participants experienced stigma the most." The findings suggest that the "black church has missed an important opportunity to lead in the healing of our communities." The black church needs to "challenge" such stigmas and help create an "environment or climate that is supportive for disclosure of HIV-positive diagnosis within our larger community," Foster writes.
She adds, "[U]ntil all aspects of the community can see, feel, touch and get to understand what someone who is diagnosed goes through to live and heal from this disease, community-based approaches to preventing this disease will never take hold" (Foster, Montgomery Advertiser, 6/8).