Religious faith plays an essential role in many black African people’s lives. Churches, mosques and other faith groups provide a social pillar in many communities. Moreover being able to seek strength in religious faith is a necessary component of living with HIV for many. Whilst HIV treatment keeps the body healthy, religion is often said to keep the soul well.1

Whereas religion can be central in supporting, inspiring and motivating people to cope with extremely challenging life circumstances, there are also instances where some faith leaders or communities foster unhelpful beliefs, for example that prayer can cure HIV without medication or being religious will, of itself, protect a person from HIV infection.

In one study, black African people with HIV were often able to distance themselves from what they saw as unhelpful or misguided attitudes expressed by people in their faith community, while still drawing on their faith to face up to challenges. Prayer, perhaps a form of expressing and sharing concerns with an ‘absent counsellor’, was extremely important for many. Moreover, many individuals were able to receive a great deal of emotional, social and material support from members of their faith community.2

However a number of individuals have experienced hostility from faith leaders and communities, who can sometimes take an active role in the stigmatisation of people with HIV. This is often due to HIV infection being seen as the result of sinful sexual behaviour.

But given their influential role in many communities, faith leaders have the potential to counteract HIV stigma and to promote HIV prevention, testing and treatment. They may need information, training, tools and dialogue with others to play this role.

There is now a growing body of tools and research on faith and HIV. The African Health Policy Network (AHPN - previously the African HIV Policy Network), LEAT (previously London Ecumenical AIDS Trust) and other organisations have rolled out training tailored for Christian and Muslim faith leaders though the National African HIV Prevention Programme (NAHIP, see Throughout the UK, there are initiatives involving community-based organisations and faith communities. This directory includes listings for faith-based organisations that offer support, care or information on HIV.3 Moreover there is a wealth of writing, tools and reference guides in circulation to assist faith communities to begin to speak about HIV from their own faith perspective. Much of the literature comes from African countries where HIV prevalence has demanded a response from faith groups.


  1. African HIV Policy Network, Naz Project London, NHS Lambeth, NHS Camden HIV and Faith: engaging Muslim and Christian leaders on the issue of HIV. London, 2009
  2. Ridge D et al. Like a prayer: the role of spirituality and religion for people living with HIV in the UK. Sociology of Health & Illness 30: 413-428, 2008
  3. African HIV Policy Network Connecting with Faith: directory 2010. London, 2010
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