Involvement of Black African Faith Leaders in the Prevention of STIs, HIV/AIDs Within London Research Paper

Introduction

            The public health affects consistently the quality of living of community members. The emergence of such health problems as sexually transmitted diseases (Lindley et al. 16) or HIV/AIDS may threaten to the public health and increases the risk of the epidemic spread of diseases, especially in large cities like London. This is why the maintenance of the public health is always the priority for the authorities as well as the National Health System, but the NHS and authorities cannot always reach some communities or social groups, because their efforts confront cultural barriers and substantial difficulties in the elaboration of effective approaches to the prevention of serious health problems within those communities.

In fact, some communities in London are in a better position compared to others. For example, Black African community of London is in a consistently worse position compared to the white majority of the city. In this regard, the situation is particularly dangerous with regard to such health issues as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV/AIDS. The latter is deadly dangerous for patients and has a negative impact on the lifestyle of patients and their quality of living. The problem is that Black African community members in London have quite a different cultural background compared to the mainstream part of London community. They pay little attention to their health and public health policies conducted by the authorities and the NHS. Instead, local faith leaders, for example, play much more important part for them than the NHS or health care professionals, whom they refer to, if they have some health issues. Therefore, the involvement of leaders of the Black African community in London is essential for the resolution of the problem of the growing number of STDs and HIV/AIDS in the Black African community, but they under-perform so far in this regard and fail to intervene effectively into the life of the local community to enhance the public health of community members.

Literature review

Black African non-profit organisations attempt to address the issue and increase the awareness of the population about high risks of STDs and HIV/AIDS along with the assistance to receive the proper treatment of their health problems. However, the scope of their operations is relatively small and they fail to change the situation drastically. The lack of funding and difficulties non-profit organisations face at reaching the average community members makes their work ineffective.  At the moment, the intervention of faith leaders is questionable, while its effectiveness is apparently lo so far. In fact, current studies (Aja, 52) show that religion plays an important part in the life of the Black African community in London and community members often need the assistance of faith leaders, which though they often lack.

The partnership between faith leaders, community members and health care professionals is extremely important for the prevention of the further growth of HIV/AIDS population in the Black African community in London (Chitando 142). However, such partnership remains under-developed so far, although it has a considerable potential because the partnership and interaction with statutory providers could help faith leaders to direct their followers and get them involved into the treatment of sexual health problems, including STDs and other problems. However, in case of patients HIV, they need such intervention right now because postponing the intervention can make it virtually useless because the disease may progress fast, especially if patients fail to receive the proper treatment and counselling services.

Members of the African community in London do not tend to share their HIV or STDs health problems with their religious leaders (Weekley & Harris-Perry 184). In fact, this is a serious problem because often such patients suffer from serious psychological problems, which they are accustomed to resolve with the help of their faith leaders but not professional psychologists or health care professionals. In such a way, faith leaders cannot provide their community members with HIV or STDs with the effective counselling services and other forms of psychological aid because they do not know their problems. Community members with HIV/AIDS or other sexual health problems feel embarrassed about their health problems and prefer not to share them with their faith leaders out of sheer fear of being misunderstood by their leaders and out of sheer embarrassment.

 Therefore, the change of the attitude of religious leaders to the problem of HIV/AIDS and STDs is very important since they have to shift from the silent indifference toward the proactive position and promotion of preventive measures to minimize the risk of the development of HIV/AIDS and STDs within African communities in London (Derose, et al. 54).  On the other hand, some Africa-based faith organisations had taken the initiative and approached their local council for help and support in doing work within the community on HIV education (Manglos & Trinitapoli 111).

Faith leaders often justify their failure to talk about sexual relations with their followers because it was not their professional duty, but they are aware of the importance of conversation concerning sexual relations and education of their community members (Aja, et al. 57). Some faith leaders recognize that sexual education should comprise a part of their work because they may help their followers to choose the right way in their life and succeed in their efforts to prevent sexual health problems (Barnes 102). The need of addressing sexual health issues /HIV within places of worship is enormous in the Black African community. On the one hand, community members are embarrassed and are not inclined to share their health problems, especially in regard to STDs and HIV/AIDS with their religious community leaders (Benton 92). On the other hand, religious community leaders may be of a great help for their community members because the latter are often religious and need the support of their religious leaders. Religious leaders, in their turn, under-perform in the communication with their followers about their sexual life and sexual education. In fact, places of worship may be ideal for sexual education and open conversations between faith leaders and community members to prevent sexual health problems or to help them to address those issues effectively.

In this regard, the role of faith leaders in early detection, and prevention of STIs and HIV/AIDS is very significant due to their authority within their community and religious beliefs of their community members. In fact, faith leaders could perform the role of mediators between community members and health care professionals. More important, faith leaders can contribute consistently to the development of sexual education within their communities. They can start sexual education from the early life of their followers that will prevent numerous health problems, including the spread of STDs and HIV/AIDS within their community. Anyway, they have the spiritual power and leadership within their community and they can and have to lead their community members toward the healthy lifestyle and minimisation of such risks as the emergence of HIV/AIDS within their community.

Statement of the problem

Today, the Black African community in London is at a high risk of the development of STDs and HIV/AODS. At the moment, Black African people are also disproportionately affected by HIV, in 2012 comprising 34% of all those diagnosed with HIV in the UK. (HIV and Black African Communities in the UK, 2014). The share of community members with STDs and HIV/AIDS is consistently higher compared to the share of such patients within the white community in London. The larger share of patients with STDs and HIV/AIDS in the Black African community in London is the result of the lower level of sexual education and the failure of community members to prevent them from the development of sexual health issues. In fact, the problem affects all communities but the level of sexual education and awareness of the risk of the development of sexual health problems can decrease this risk consistently, but such awareness is still extremely low in the Black African community in London so far. The lack of awareness increases the risk of the emergence of epidemics of STDs and HIV/AIDS within the Black African community in London. The spread of such epidemics in London may threaten to other communities and may have a negative impact on the public health of the entire city.

In such a situation, the question that begs is who can help Black African community members to prevent STDs and HIV/AIDS in their community and help those, who have already got the problem. One of possible answers is the wide intervention of faith leaders and their assistance to community members, who have STDs or HIV/AIDS.

Aim of the project

            The aim of the project is to reveal the involvement or lack of it of Black African faith leaders into the prevention of STDs and HIV/AIDS in London. The research will reveal whether faith leaders are aware of the problem. In addition, the research will show whether faith leaders intervene and help community members to address the problem successfully.

Objectives

            One of the main objectives of the study is to determine the level of awareness of faith leaders about the problem of STDs and HIV/AIDS within Black African community in London. Second objective is to evaluate the scope of their impact on the Black African community in London. Finally, the study will evaluate the possible effect of faith leaders intervention on the Black African community and spread of STDs and HIV/AIDS within the community.

Research questions

  •             What is the impact of faith leaders on the Black African community in London?
  •             What is the current impact of STDs and HIV/AIDS on the public health in the Black African community in London?
  •             How can faith leaders assist Black Africans in London to cope with or prevent the development of STDs and HIV/AIDS?

Rationale

            At the moment, the share of the population with HIV/AIDS in London is higher among the Black African population compared to the white population. Causes of such disparities are diverse but the position of community leaders is apparently particularly important for the prevention of STDs and HIV/AIDS within the community, especially within the Black African community in London, because this community traditionally tends to follow their leaders, who use faith and religion as the ideological and unifying ground for their community members. In other words, the role of religious leaders of the Black African community in London is very important because they have a considerable impact on their community members. However, at the moment, they definitely fail to communicate effectively the essence of the problem and resolve the problem of the emergence of STDs and HIV/AIDS within their community.

            The study involved the use of literature survey to find out the essence of the problem of the current involvement of faith leaders in London into the prevention of HIV and STDs within the Black African community of the city. As the information has to be up-to-date the access to the recent researches dedicated to the problem of the involvement of faith leaders into HIV and STDs prevention in the Black African community in London was essential to conduct the literature survey. In this regard, online databases, including JStor, ProQuest, and others, were used in terms of the current because they could provide the most up-to-date and relevant information. The use of peer-reviewed journal articles was the priority for the data collection and analysis because such sources are reliable and valid in scientific terms. The study involved relatively recent studies which dated back to 2010 at the most or were published later. Such selection of literature for the survey allowed obtaining up-to-date information about the problem of the intervention of faith leaders into the prevention of HIV/AIDS in the Black African community in London.

Methods

            Procedure: Research methods will involve the analysis of previous studies conducted in the field of sexual health, STDs and HIV/AIDS among Black Africans in London. In addition, studies dedicated to the faith leadership in the Black African community in London will be included in the current study. The survey of existing studies will reveal the key issues related to the problem of the current study.

            Data collection: The survey of existing studies will include the focus on the following key aspects: HIV/AIDS within the Black African community in London; vulnerability of Black Africans in London to STDs; faith leadership in the Black African community in London; the impact of faith leaders on the Black African community in London. The data were collected from online databases. For this purpose, the search for the relevant literature was conducted. The literature selection involved several key steps. First, the key words and phrases were selected to conduct the search for the target literature. The key words mirrored the key aspects of the study and, thus, including the following phrases: HIV/AIDS within the Black African community in London; vulnerability of Black Africans in London to STDs; faith leadership in the Black African community in London; the impact of faith leaders on the Black African community in London. Then the search for the target literature was narrowed down by determining the date of the publication. 2010 was selected as the latest date admissible for the literature to survey. In fact, the five year period was chosen as the acceptable period because studies conducted within the last five years are still up-to-date and they are recognized by the scientific community as relevant, whereas older studies may be useful but they do not mirror the actual situation, which is particularly important in terms of the current study. The next step in the data collection was the identification of reliable resources that could be used in the study. Magazine and newspapers articles along with unreliable online resources were excluded from the search. Instead, the study focused on peer-reviewed journal articles because they were reliable and had a solid scientific background.

            Data analysis: The data analysis will identify the key findings in the key aspects collected in the course of the survey of previous studies. The analysis will show the key trends in the development of HIV/AIDS within the Black African community in London; vulnerability of Black Africans in London to STDs; faith leadership in the Black African community in London; the impact of faith leaders on the Black African community in London.

            Limitations of the methods used: The use of survey methods raises the problem of subjectivity of findings of the study because of the risk of the subjective interpretation of findings of other studies or the lack of reliability of other studies.

Results

At the moment, there is the real lack of money from black communities going into prevention of STDs and HIV/AIDS in the Black African community in London. The problem of the fast growth of STDs and HIV/AIDS rates among Black African community members in London has been revealed in many studies (Teti, et al.36). This trend is extremely dangerous, taking into consideration the devastating impact of these health problems on human health, especially, if they remain unaddressed and turn into epidemics. Such probability is high because Black Africans living in London are often ignorant of threats, which they may face and they often ignore their health problems until it is too late, while the method of treatment they use are not always effective or ineffective at all. For example, some researchers (Derose, et al. 55) report that Black Africans in London often try to use their traditional medicine to cure their STDs or even HIV/AIDS, instead of going to health care professionals, who can provide them with advanced and effective methods of treatment and cure their STDs and help them to cope with HIV/AIDS to prolong their life as long as possible.

Existing studies reveal the fact that faith leaders took part in discussions concerning their role in the prevention of sexual health problems in the Black African community and stressed their limited capacity in dealing with HIV-related issues within their congregations (Benton 96). They identified the problem but they also recognized their inability to resolve the problem or, at least, to assist local community members to address the issue successfully. Faith leaders recognize the problem but fail to elaborate an effective solution that could have helped to reduce the number of community members with HIV/AIDS and other sexual health issues.

The problem of the growing number of patients with STDs and HIV/AIDS in the Black African community aggravates because it is remains unaddressed by community leaders, which are faith leaders, as a rule. At the same time, community members are not always confident in health care professionals because of cultural and language barriers (Derose 46). For example, they may prefer traditional medicine to the professional aide from the part of health care professionals. In such a situation, the problem of emerging STDs and the growth of the population with HIV/AIDS in Black African communities in London aggravates.

This problem often emerges because Black African community members often believe that their sexual health problems, such as STDs or HIV/AIDS are a sort of taboo, which faith leaders have never discussed with them nor raised in their preaches. Hence, the discussion of sexual health problems is not a subject of public discussions in many Black African communities in London. In this regard, religions and faith leaders rather aggravate the situation than help community members to resolve their problems. For example, Christianity and Islam, as the major religions within Black African communities in London, make sexual education and sexual life of individuals a sort of taboo. These religions define the role of faith leaders as promoters of religious ideas and virtuous lifestyle (Barnes 105). However, the virtuous lifestyle does not always mean the proper sexual education. On the contrary, the promotion of virtuous lifestyle by religious leaders rather makes it even more embarrassing for community members to uncover their STDs or HIV/AIDS because they are certain that they have failed to lead a virtuous life. Hence, they believe if they reveal their health condition, faith leaders may just condemn them rather than help them. In such a situation, the establishment of effective communication between faith leaders and Black Africans is hardly possible.  

At the same time, many Black African community members are not just embarrassed but they fear of biases and stereotypes faith leaders may have in relation to patients with STDs and HIV/AIDS. For example, they may be anxious that faith leaders may believe that they have led immoral lifestyle before they have caught an STD or HIV/AIDS. This belief enhances their fear of the revelation of their sexual health problems to their faith leaders, who have the great authority in their communities and who often promote the virtuous lifestyle (Melton 310). Black Africans in London often believe that having an STD or HIV/AIDS will be misinterpreted by their faith leaders, who may believe that they have sinned and violated moral norms they have been preaching all the time.

Faith leaders play an important part in the community since many Black Africans, who live in London, view them as more important authorities than representatives of the NHS or health care professionals. They are highly confident in their faith leaders because they do not just belong to their community but they lead their community. As for health care professionals, Black Africans in London often face the problem of communication gaps with them because of substantial cultural differences, while sometimes they face language barrier. In such a situation, they cannot always interact and communicate with health care professionals, while health care professionals cannot help them to treat or prevent the development of serious health problems caused by STDs or HIV/AIDS (Nadar & Phiri 128). Hence, faith leaders perform an important part of spiritual leaders, whom people are confident in. They have the potential to bridge their community members and health care professionals. They can contribute to the consistent improvement of the sexual health within their community, but they have not succeeded much in this regard so far.

However, the problem is that faith leaders often underestimate the scope of the problem of STDs and HIV/AIDS in the Black African community in London. They simply lack the information about the real scope of spreading STDs and HIV/AIDS within their community. As their community members do not share those problems with them and faith leaders do not study the public health issues in their community, they may remain unaware of the problem of STDs and HIV/AIDS in their communities for a long time (James 47). Today, the problem becomes so obvious that faith leaders cannot ignore it anymore because the share of patients with STDs and HIV/AIDS in Black African communities in London is consistently hire compared to the average share of patients with STDs and HIV/AIDS in the mainstream part of London population.

As a result, faith leaders do not launch conversations or maintain the effective communication with their followers within their community about the threat of STDs and HIV/AIDS as well as the importance of referring to health care professionals, if they get any problems. The inaction of faith leaders has a negative impact on the public health of their communities because the problem of the further progress of STDs and HIV/AIDS within Black African communities in London aggravates. The lack of the faith leaders’ intervention does not encourage community members to take the problem seriously (Baral 577). As faith leaders do not raise or even mention the problem of STDs and HIV/AIDS in their preaching, public speeches or routine communication with their followers, community members believe that there are no such problems within their community (Patrick 207). However, the more they believe so, the more they expose themselves to the risk of catching STDs and HIV/AIDS.

In this regard, the communication of faith leaders with the youth is particularly important because the youth is the major risk group vulnerable to the threat of the development of sexual health problems triggered by STDs or HIV/AIDS. The youth appreciates the position of faith leaders because they are like bridges between their homeland or the land of their parents, on the one hand, ad British culture and western civilization, on the other. This is why the position of faith leaders does matter in their communication with Black African community members (Sangaramoorthy 16). The youth is also vulnerable to the impact of strong and powerful leaders because their worldview is not fully shaped yet. Hence, the intervention of faith leaders and their communication with their followers, the introduction of elements of sexual education in their regular work and communication with the youth and other groups within their community, can help to prevent the further progress of STDs and HIV/AIDS in Black African communities in London.

Furthermore, the literature survey has revealed one of the major problems in the failure of faith leader to assist patients with HIV and STDs was the lack of confidentiality, and a site for the generation of stigma (Matera 35). Such attitude to religious organisations and places of worship is often biased and prevent the development of the effective relationships between religious organisations and community members. On the other hand, such attitude toward religious organisations explains, to a certain extent, the lack of the effective intervention of faith leaders into the prevention of the problem of STDs and HIV/AIDS within the community in London.

As community members do not share their sexual health problems with their community faith leaders, the latter fail to address their problems effectively. In this regard, many researchers (Derose 47) believe that the proactive position of faith leaders can help community members to tackle their problems and change the public health in their community for better. If faith leaders take initiative and make the first step, followers will definitely follow their lead, but Black African faith leaders are not ready to make the first step so far.

Moreover, traditional ways Black African religious leaders used to prevent HIV/AIDS in Africa do not work in London (Melton 299). At the same time, they cannot always apply their knowledge and experience in London, because they are in a different socioeconomic and cultural environment. The life in London is definitely different from that in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is why faith leaders have to elaborate new strategies for the development of effective intervention into the prevention of sexual health problems and the development of HIV in the Black African community in London. In this regard, they may need to unite their efforts with health care professionals and leaders of the mainstream cultural group in London to be able to adapt their methods of intervention to specificities of London.

Many researchers (Manglos & Trinitapoli 115) insist that the proactive position of faith leaders is the key to their success in the intervention and solution of the problem of STDs and HIV/AIDS in Black African communities in London. Faith leaders can lead their followers the right way, they can educate and they can establish closer interaction between community members and health care professionals that can help to slow down or stop the further progress of STDs and HIV/AIDS in their communities.

Discussion

            In fact, one of the main issues is the sheer communication gap that exists between faith leaders and Black African community members in London. The lack of the communication engenders the failure of faith leaders to reach their followers and community members, who have already caught STDs and HIV/AIDS or who are at risk, for example, the youth. Communication gaps make it impossible to facilitate the interaction between community members and health care professionals, while faith leaders have the potential to become mediators in their communication. Therefore, the growth of faith leaders’ awareness of the problem and the elimination of communication gaps are probably the major steps to change the situation in Black African communities in London and to launch large scale public health programs that can help to reduce cases of STDs and HIV/AIDS in those communities.

Religious leaders are often unaware that HIV/AIDS problem is emerging in their community and, therefore, pay little attention to its solution or prevention (Pusateri 12). This trend is strong in London as well. In such a situation, faith leaders often underestimate the scope of the problem of the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Black African community as well as other STDs, while the scope of the problem is really challenging and affects the Black African community more than other communities in London, especially, the white majority.

At the same time, many researchers (Symington 641) reveal that the leadership is important for Black African. Hence, the gap between faith leaders’ unawareness or their low awareness of the problem of HIV and STDs in the Black African community in London and strife of community members for a strong leadership is one of the major obstacles to the active and effective involvement of faith leaders into the prevention of HIV and STDs in the Black African community in London. Therefore, the intervention of faith leaders and their lead in the struggle against HIV in the Black African community can help community members to overcome this problem and decrease risks of the development of serious sexual health issues.

            Communication gaps emerge from the traditional attitude of faith leaders and their followers to sexual relations and related health problems. Often sexual relations are a sort of taboo for representatives of different religious groups within the Black African community in London. This is why they simply refuse to share their sexual health problems with their faith leaders. Biases, stereotypes and prejudices become unsurpassable barriers on the way to the effective communication between Black Africans and their faith leaders (James 45). In this regard, biases and prejudices have a dubious impact. On the one hand, community members fear condemnation from the part of their faith leaders, while, on the other hand, faith leaders may have a biased view on their followers with STDs and HIV/AIDS.

            In addition, faith leaders should make the first step and focus on sexual education as well as on regular conversations about sexual health and such issues as STDs, HIV/AIDS, their prevention and importance of consultations at health care professionals (Matera 38). Faith leaders should intervene before the situation in their communities becomes too dangerous and the share of patients with STDs and HIV/AIDS skyrockets. Faith leaders have both the authority and spiritual power to guide their followers. They should just use that power to guide their followers in the right direction. They may help their followers to learn more about sexual relations and prevention of sexual health problems, including the development of STDs and HIV/AIDS. Faith leaders may and should encourage sexual education in their communities because Black Africans lack the sexual education, while sexual education offers they receive from public organisations, health care professionals and other stakeholders, they often reject because of their religious concerns, their biases and stereotypes.

            The close cooperation between faith leaders and health care professionals may be particularly effective in terms of the prevention of STDs and HIV/AIDS within the Black African community in London because community members are highly confident in their faith leaders, while faith leaders are not well-qualified enough to provide their followers with the effective aide or health care services. Therefore, they can establish closer communication with community members, who have STDs or HIV/AIDS and help them to refer to health care professionals and conduct the treatment, which they need, according to recommendations of health care professionals. Hence, faith leaders can exercise their leadership power to help their communities to cope with a serious challenge to the public health of their communities, which bring STDs and HIV/AIDS. The position of faith leaders may be determinant in the overall struggle against the further progress of STDs and HIV/AIDS in Black African communities.

Conclusion

            Thus, at the moment, faith leaders of the Black African community in London pay little attention to the problem of STDs and HIV/AIDS in their community. In fact, this is not the indifference of leaders but the lack of professionalism and qualification in the field of health care. Faith leaders traditionally provided spiritual support. They treated souls but not bodies. This is why they currently under-perform in terms of supporting community members with information about STDs, HIV/AIDS and other sexual health problems. Moreover, religions often tend to define sexual health problems as a sort of taboo that discourages both faith leaders and their followers from sharing information about STDs and HIV/AIDS. Many followers are unwilling to uncover their health problem, such as STDs or HIV/AIDS because of the dominant biases and prejudices in regard to patients with such health problems. They are simply afraid of condemnation from the part of their faith leaders because of their possibly immoral lifestyle, which may be rather a part of prejudices of faith leaders than a part of the real life of community members. Faith leaders do not have experience of communicating with their followers about STDs and HIV/AIDS. As a result, they remain either ignorant of the scope of the problem or incapable to change the situation for better.

            However, faith leaders often have a greater authority in Black African communities in London than health care professionals. This is why faith leaders can contribute consistently to the solution of the problem of the emerging STDs and the growth of the number of patients with HIV/AIDS in Black African communities in London. In this regard, faith leaders have to pay more attention to the direct communication with their followers and raise the problem of sexual education in their families, discussion of the problem of STDs and HIV/AIDS in Black African communities, encourage their followers to conduct regular examinations at health care professionals and enlighten community members in the field of their sexual education. Moreover, faith leaders can use their authority to develop sexual education and start such education at the early age before it is too late and young community members catch a STD or HIV/AIDS. Also faith leaders can perform the role of mediators between their community members and health care professionals. They can educate their community members about safe sex, prevention of STDs, HIV/AIDS, and importance of consulting health care professionals, when they notice some problems in their sexual health.

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