16 June 2017, Nairobi, Kenya: On 16 June, more than 500 people gathered to commemorate the Day of the African Child in Nairobi, Kenya, and to speak up publicly for the rights of children and adolescents living with HIV. Religious leaders from a range of different faith communities and traditions led a march through the streets of Nairobi, from the All Saints Cathedral to Ufungamano House, accompanied by hundreds of youth and young children from local faith-sponsored schools, after which a ceremony was held where the religious leaders committed publicly to work for children's rights to HIV testing, access to treatment, and freedom from stigma and discrimination, to make sure that those who are in need of treatment are also able to stay on treatment. The day was organized by the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Advocay Alliance together with Inerela+ Kenya, with contributions from a range of other partners. At end of the ceremony, the WCC-EAA launched a global Call to Action entitled "Act now for children and adolescents living with HIV", which was signed by the range of religious leaders.


The WHO hosted the webinar with the premise that stigma and discrimination need to be addressed in our communications, by health care providers, faith and community leaders; considering how we respond to a disease outbreak using the lessons learned in the HIV epidemic. 

The webinar highlighted HIV strategies to respond to stigma, which could be repurposed for other health emergencies. The analysis focused on the Stigma Index (an HIV stigma systematic survey conducted by networks of people living with HIV), and the Framework for Dialogue (which analyses the results of the Stigma Index to open the conversations with faith leaders).

Ross shared ideas on documenting existing faith partner resources and tools, including a WCC study on seven local congregations responding to HIV stigma (available in 2023).

She presented another strategy to fight stigma, which is the body mapping methodology, which has been used by Latin American networks of people living with HIV, especially those of women.  Ross reflected on the many facets of our identities in which body and embodiment are essential parts of our beings. Bodies are used to live our gender, sexuality, to reproduce and relate to the other,’ ” she said. In the modern world, industries of beauty and health transformed bodies in a market space.”

Our bodies can be attacked, stigmatized, violated, age, get sick and ill, Ross added.

The body-mapping methodology was used in 1987 for studies on fertility issues,” she said. In the last years, it was used among people living with HIV.”

The methodology evolved from a therapeutic tool, which included preparation for death, to a mechanism for embodied awareness, storying of the self, representation of social relationships, translation of knowledge, education of communities, holistic healing, and political activism.

The body-mapping methodology can be used for epidemics and pandemics, including HIV/AIDS, COVID-19, and other pandemics,” said Ross. She explored the questions: How we can bring the voices of those living with a disease to the policy makers and faith leaders?” and How does making the bodies visible help health policymaking?”

Although it is called body mapping, the mapping goes beyond the physical aspects of our beings, she explained. "It is a moment of awareness and holistic healing,” she said. This methodology has large potential to open and start difficult conversations such as gender-based violence, death, and sexuality.”

The methodology puts people in the centre and makes issues real in terms of the physical dimensions (bodies), social aspects (poverty) and spiritual elements (feelings and being a community together), she continued.

When people do the body maps and interpret them together, an effect of equality is gained because the policymaker or the religious leader also has her/his own map and story,” she said. Violence starts in stigma, and in the failure to respect the dignity of all human beings.”

She also addressed how infectious disease pandemics often result in increased stigma and discrimination, and how stigma is far-reaching and has profound impacts for health-related outcomes.

1 Corinthians 12:26 tells us: If one part [of the body] suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it,’” she said. Being on the side of people who suffer stigma due to a disease, is a moral duty for the faith community.”