Caring for Spirits and for Bodies: Working with Chinese Immigrant Religious Institutions to Increase HIV Knowledge and Reduce HIV Stigma


Following is an excerpt:
Because of their respected role in communities, religious institutions have the potential to be important partners in improving the health of the communities they serve. Religious institutions may be especially important in immigrant groups, where language and cultural barriers make accessing more mainstream sources of information and support more difficult. A wide range of research suggests that religious institutions play an instrumental role in helping immigrants cope with the practical challenges of daily life. But the work of these religious institutions has been limited in public health initiatives and even more limited in work related to HIV/AIDS education and support. We were particularly interested in immigrant religious institutions’ potential role in HIV/AIDS work because of the high level of stigma that surrounds the condition. We thought that perhaps religious institutions, because of their role in defining community values, could help not only to provide HIV/AIDS education and support, but also to reduce stigma, which often gets in the way of HIV/AIDS work. We also wanted to evaluate the extent to which religious institutions might contribute to HIV/AIDS stigma by promoting negative messages about groups that are stereotyped as having HIV/AIDS, such as gay men. Our previous and current research suggests that negative views of homosexuality constitute much of the basis for HIV/AIDS stigma in Chinese immigrant religious institutions, but stigma and taboos related to disease and sex in general and unfounded fears of HIV infection through casual contact also contribute.