portrait of David Ernesto

"When I tell my story, I tell it in the third person - as if it is a story about my brother or a friend. Many people cry when they hear this story, both men and women.

"Then, at the end, I tell them that the story is about me."

These are the words of David Ernesto (pictured above), a former gang member from one of the most impoverished communities in the capital of El Salvador, San Salvador. David's story is featured in the Progressio report, Prayer alone is not enough.

At Progressio, we've worked for many years on HIV-related issues. In recent years, we've had a particular focus on working with faith leaders and faith communities to tackle stigma and discrimination and promote a holistic approach to HIV prevention, care and treatment.

Despite the length of time the virus has been in our history, HIV remains a stigmatised and often not well understood pandemic. In our work on HIV and faith, we have found that faith leaders and communities exert a strong influence over whether people at risk, or living with HIV, are stigmatised or supported. And that this, in turn, can make the difference between someone being supported to protect themself against infection or to access care and treatment - or being impeded from doing so.

We have also seen the way in which grinding poverty affects people's ability to cope with and respond to HIV - in particular, the consequences of that poverty for opportunities and livelihoods, and the stresses it places upon health and relationships.

Our report, Prayer alone is not enough (1.86MB PDF), aims to highlight the lessons from our work with faith-based partner organisations responding to HIV. To do this, we interviewed people with a story to tell in El Salvador, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

You can read some of the stories here:

Khumbulani and Jane in Zimbabwe

Abdulla Mohammed El Qadesi in Yemen

Ana Deysi in El Salvador

Read short extracts from people's stories of living with HIV in Zimbabwe

Or take a look at the report in full

These stories show the experiences of individual human beings affected by or living with HIV, and also those working alongside them, as perceived through the lens of faith. All three countries are places of high religiosity where participation in a faith community is almost universal. Thus, these are stories of the human spirit amidst the challenges of the HIV pandemic.

We believe these stories show that simplistic moralising prescriptions about HIV are not the answer. Instead, the stories show people living hard lives in impossible circumstances, facing many emotional and practical challenges, and yet finding ways to respond with strength and dignity.

In doing so, they lay down a challenge to each of us to examine our own attitudes and assumptions, and show that faith leaders, faith communities, and people of faith can play a positive part in an effective response to the lived reality of HIV.

You might also want to read:

Our policy statement on HIV which was first published in 2002

Our series of Comment booklets exploring a Christian response to the HIV pandemic:

Gender justice, ministry and healing by Nyambura Njoroge

Instability, structural violence and vulnerability by James Keenan and Enda McDonagh

Stigma in the context of development by Gillian Paterson