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HIV-AIDS Leaflet





More than 80 Christian and Muslim religious leaders from the Arab region attended a workshop on Tuesday in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on raising HIV/AIDS awareness.

"Religion plays a major role in making changes in society here, and it is high time to have religious leaders engaged in beating this epidemic," said Mohammad Chrietah, a Syrian government national trainer.

"The initiative was made due to the increasing number of infections in Arab countries, which reached 540,000 in 2004, and the disease is spreading with high speed at the rate of 300 percent [a year] in the Middle East and North Africa," he observed.

The four-day meeting called the 'Religious Leaders Sub-Regional Training Workshop', was organised by the HIV/AIDS Regional Programme in the Arab States (HARPAS) of the United Nations Development Programme.

"The infection prevalence is low in Syria - the number of HIV/AIDS reported cases in Syria from 1987 until the end of 2004 is about 400 This figure includes foreigners and Syrians," Chrietah said.

He pointed out that there were many misconceptions about HIV/AIDS, and religious leaders were in a position to offer advice, provide information and promote safe sex, with the aim of making the Middle East and North Africa free of new infections by 2015.

The workshop was designed to clarify facts about the disease and train Religious leaders in how to use an HIV/AIDS manual drafted by Participants at the Cairo conference in December 2004.

HARPAS is using the media, civil society institutions, NGOs and the private sector to spread the message of safe sex.

The workshop was attended by Muslim religious leaders from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt, and Christian religious leaders from all Arab countries.

"AIDS remains something of a taboo in society because it touches virtues our role is essential in combating the epidemic because of people's strong confidence in religious leaders," Sheikh Mohammad Abul Kair Shukri, from Syria, said at the workshop.

"The most effective way to raise awareness on AIDS is through Friday sermons: there are about 8,000 mosques throughout Syria and more than 60 percent of Muslims attend Friday prayers," he noted.

Father Hadi al-Ayya, a Christian leader from Lebanon, said: "We shall raise awareness of the disease through Sunday sermons in churches and through our institutions, including schools, universities, charities and hospitals."

The initiative began in Syria in June 2004 at a meeting of 20 religious Leaders who were helping infected people in their respective countries, said Dr Khadija Moalla, the HARPAS regional programme coordinator.

She added that another meeting was held in Cairo in December 2004, where more than 80 prominent religious leaders from the Arab region pledged to face the imminent danger of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and promote virtue and religious values in trying to control its spread, by signing the Cairo Declaration.

Moalla explained that HARPAS started holding regional workshops at the request of religious leaders who had participated in the Cairo meeting.

A workshop for the African countries will be held in Yemen, and in Kuwait for the Gulf States.

"These workshops aim to train 300 religious leaders in the Arab countries; however, the goal is to reach every religious leader," Moalla commented.

"Following the Cairo Declaration, we started to raise the awareness of people in mosques through Friday sermons, seminars, religion classes and the mass media," said Sheikh Tayseer Rajab al-Tamimi, chief Judge in Palestine.

According to the 2004 UNAIDS report, during the year nearly 92,000 people in the region became infected with HIV; there were 540,000 people living with the disease, half of them women; and 28,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses.