Senegalese religious leaders' perceptions of HIV/AIDS and implications for challenging stigma and discrimination.
Senegal has been heralded as a model country in the fight against HIV/AIDS because of the low prevalence in the general population and concerted prevention efforts since the start of the epidemic. Despite its success, stigma and discrimination remain a reality for people living with HIV/AIDS as HIV transmission remains linked to lifestyle and perceived morality. Because religious teaching and the participation of religious leaders in HIV prevention is reported as partially responsible for Senegal's success, the present study seeks to deepen the understanding of their role in psychosocial aspects of care and support of people living with HIV/AIDS. Interviews were conducted with 87 religious leaders. Muslim, Catholic and Protestant leaders differ in their involvement in HIV/AIDS education, their opinions of condom use and their counselling techniques for people living with HIV/AIDS. Most religious leaders in each group believed that addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the reduction of HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination are priorities, yet some leaders still hold beliefs about HIV/AIDS that may ostracise people living with HIV/AIDS. Organisations working to sensitise religious leaders on HIV/AIDS should focus more on the everyday experience of people living with HIV/AIDS, promote the value of condom use, even if solely among married couples, and reinforce religious leaders' roles as spiritual counsellors.