CABSA Letter on the South African National Strategic Plan on HIV, TB and STIs 2017-2022

The draft of the new NSP - the South African National Strategic Plan on HIV, TB and STIs 2017-2022 - has been published here.

CABSA submitted the following document to the NSP Steering Committee on 24/3/2016. If you or your organisation are interested in endorsing this, please contact us at

Plea for greater involvement and understanding of the role of faith communities in the South African National Strategic Plan on HIV, TB and STIs 2017-2022 

The religious sector has been involved with the process of the national strategic plan in different ways and CABSA has been involved in a number of these initiatives.

At the meeting of the religious sector, which formed part of the sectoral Stakeholder Consultations held on 10 February at The Lakes Hotel & Conference Centre, a commitment was made that a summary of the meeting and suggestions from the representatives would be sent to all participants. No such feedback was received.

Further, there was a commitment that that feedback and input of the representatives present at the meeting will be provided to the writing team as a matter of urgency.

In spite of this, the most recent version of the NSP available on the website still has only four references to the faith sector, and it does not seem as if the recommendations from the faith sector at the sectoral and national Stakeholder Consultations were included. In fact, participants in the consultation was not even informed that the next draft is available, and CABSA learnt about this by chance. This begs the question if the consultation process was a real attempt to include the sectors, specifically the faith-based sector, or merely window dressing.

CABSA feels that this action negates the important role Faith communities play as key change agents in the epidemic, and weakens the potential impact of this important plan.

Why is it important for communities of faith to be involved?

The faith sector exists from the most localized congregation in the village setting to the largest global faith-based institution. It has the capacity to engage with a single individual or with governments and international organizations. The term “Faith-Based Organizations” (FBOs) is used here to mean entities found anywhere within the entire scope of the faith sector.

Where the involvement of faith communities was in the early stages of the epidemic viewed with scepticism, often rightfully so, the response of many global players has shifted to one of acknowledgement of the important role of the sector, as the following few quotes show:

 “As the AIDS epidemic has progressed through history, the importance of the faith response has become increasingly apparent…. A strong faith response is critical to achieving the Fast-Track Targets by 2020 and to ending AIDS by 2030.” (Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS)

 “The success of PEPFAR to date has been achieved in large part because of the contributions of faith-based organizations to country efforts on HIV/AIDS, across the entire spectrum of prevention, treatment, and care.” (A Firm Foundation, PEPFAR, 2012)

“We know that faith communities are key in overcoming HIV … Religious leaders have powerful voices in mobilizing people to take up testing, treatment and care, and we simply cannot do this without them.” (Katherine Perry, Kenya coordinator at PEPFAR)

“In FHI’s experience, partnerships with faith-based organizations have been particularly effective in providing care and treatment, promoting prevention awareness, mobilizing and equipping volunteers, and creating networks and infrastructure.” (William Sachs, FHI 360)

Advantages and Capabilities of the faith sector

FBOs offer South Africa and particularly the National Strategic Plan a large number of unique advantages and capabilities in the response to HIV and:


Most faith traditions promote compassion and concern for the sick, the poor, the suffering and disadvantaged.

Faith communities have track records spanning millennia of caring for the sick and dying, the poor and oppressed, the widow and orphan.

Moral motivation and shared values among faith groups underpin their engagement in development (social justice, human value and dignity, loving one’s neighbour, etc.)

Advocacy: religious institutions champion the poor, the marginalized, the disenfranchised.

Systemic issues that are rightly the domain religious faith include: violence, gender inequality, poverty, human rights, and social justice.

Empowering Structures:

Faith communities have the widest network coverage globally, the largest constituency of people and an enviable infrastructure, extending from the international community to the most marginalized.

They are responsive and committed, often responding quickly to difficult situations and accepting challenges other institutions ignore or quickly abandon.

By connecting national networks with grassroots programs, FBOs can respond quickly to pressing needs.

Ongoing, Active Engagement:

They already have well-established health service delivery networks and infrastructure.

They already play a central role in caring for OVCs, providing PMTCT and other preventive services, and providing treatment and care for PLWHs.

They are already engaged in the most remote, rural areas and in the poorest neighbourhoods of the world and South Africa.


They have a record of fiscal responsibility and a divine mandate to be good stewards of the resources allotted them.

Unmatched “reach” and community access:

The faith-based sector is present literally everywhere people live their lives, with enormous outreach as well as “in-reach”.

84% of the world’s population considers itself as religiously affiliated. South Africa has a very high percentage of citizens who identify with the major monotheistic religions, particularly Christianity

FBOs are an integral part of life in most societies throughout the country. Their involvement at some of the most significant moments in life (birth, sickness, marriage, death) give them an unparalleled advantage over other sectors in the field of HIV.

Faith groups have been called “the doorway into society.”


Highly committed network of staff and volunteers, able to reach even the most remote areas.

Influence and respect:

FBOs have respected and trusted status in local communities.    

They wield moral authority.

They can influence communities, societies and nations.

Many government, civil and community leaders are themselves members of faith communities.

Knowledge of local culture, customs and perspectives:

Their integrated role in communities gives them cultural roots in the lives of the people.

They can make health information understandable and relevant in a way consistent with community values.


They meld together the physical, mental, spiritual and social aspects of human experience as they care for individuals, families and communities impacted by HIV.

Commitment and Perseverance:

They are vision-driven and relationship-oriented.

They are usually on the ground responding to need before outside funding arrives and continuing the work long after funding dries up.

They remain committed to their communities even in the face of instability, violence, threats, political opposition, outbreaks of disease, etc.

Ingenuity and Adaptability:

They develop innovative ways and means to reach all parts of their communities, and rapidly adapt as needed to changes in their environment while remaining true to their values.

The words and examples of faith leaders set the pattern for their communities.

They have an essential role to play in transforming social norms, values and practices; and in mobilizing community responses and services.

Because faith leaders are trusted, respected and listened to, they can:

  • Lead the effort to eradicate stigma and discrimination.
  • Respond to suffering with compassion, to exclusion by inclusion, and to rejection by acceptance.
  • In so doing they will open the way to reconciliation, hope, understanding, healing, prevention and care.
  • Motivate people to reduce their risk behaviours; to know their HIV status; to access and remain engaged in treatment and care; and to live healthy lifestyles.
  • Promote responsible behaviour that respects the dignity of all persons and defends the sanctity of life.
  • Shape social values and inform public knowledge opinion.
  • Advocate for enlightened attitudes, policies and laws.
  • Promote action from the grass roots up to the national level.
  • Influence and encourage each other as well as their congregations to develop “HIV and AIDS competency”.

We could mention specific areas where faith communities can be key role players in specific activities and objectives of the NSP - around mitigating stigma, addressing human rights issues, prevention, HIV testing, and care and support - including pastoral support - of both those living with HIV and children orphaned by the epidemic. Faith-based representatives have indeed done so in various forums leading up to this present draft of the NSP.

However, we will conclude with two more quotes from UNAIDS representatives:

“Science and treatment on its own are not enough. We cannot just treat our way out of this epidemic. We need to address the social determinants that are driving the stigma and discrimination to prevent people from getting tested and staying on treatment. We know that the faith communities are central.” (Sally Smith, Senior Advisor for Faith-Based Organizations, UNAIDS)

“It’s not just medicines and what happens in clinical wards and health centers that will solve this crisis. At the end it’s about how we approach people, about ethics, about what brings us together to work for better societies, societies that our children will be proud to live in.”   (Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director, UNAIDS)

On behalf of CABSA and many faith organisations that have been involved with the HIV response in South Africa for many years, we would like to reiterate our commitment to be part of addressing the strategic goals of the NSP.

We appeal to the Steering Committee to not ignore the strengths and capacity of the faith sector meaningfully in the South African National Strategic Plan on HIV, TB and STIs 2017-2022. We believe that ignoring thus crucial sector weakens the plan and the HIV response in South Africa.

Submitted by
Ms Lyn van Rooyen
Executive Director,
CABSA (The Christian AIDS Bureau for Southern Africa)


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  2. Christian Aid; 2014; Evaluation of the impact of Christian Aid’s support of faith-based responses to HIV, available online at christian-aids-support-of-faith-based-responses-to-hiv-2.pdf
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