THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO RAISE AWARENESS ON AIDS IS THROUGH
DAMASCUS, 10 Aug 2005 (IRIN/PLUSNEWS)
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
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