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HIV-AIDS Leaflet

 

            

YEMEN: RELIGIOUS LEADERS DISCUSS ANTI-AIDS STRATEGIES


© IRIN

SANA, 19 Sep 2005 (IRIN/PLUSNEWS) - A four-day meeting of religious leaders from Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen started on Sunday in the Yemeni capital of Sana as part of a programme to involve religious leaders in raising awareness and breaking the silence about HIV/AIDS in the Arab world.

There are indications that HIV/AIDS
is a growing problem in Yemen.

The participants will receive basic training on how to deal with HIV/AIDS issues, communicate the right messages to the public and further develop awareness-raising materials produced during a meeting of both Christian and Muslim religious leaders in Cairo in December 2004.

"This is one of a series of workshops that have been held in other Arab countries with the purpose of engaging religious leaders in creating a momentum to tackle the disease before it becomes an epidemic," Flavia Pansieri, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Yemen, said.

"HIV/AIDS is not only a medical issue but has social, economic, developmental and religious implications," Pansieri told participants.

"This is why we look upon you as absolutely essential partners in preventing the threat of HIV/AIDS because you have a moral authority to encourage, not discriminate against those affected by the virus and to promote moral as well as safe behaviour," she said.

HIV infection, Pansieri added, is not an indication of guilt but rather a "social as well as health problem that needs to be addressed".

The Yemeni Deputy Minister for Public Health and Population Majed al-Junaid said his government is committed to fight and control the disease, which was becoming a major problem.

"The government, with the help of UNDP [UN Development Programme] and WHO [World Health Organization], set up a national strategic framework for the control and prevention of HIV/AIDS in November 2002. This is a multi-sectoral plan involving different sectors in the fight against the disease," he said.

Hashim al-Zein, WHO representative in Yemen told the participants that the HIV/AIDS treatment is not currently available in the country "because it is very expensive and needs a lot of money".

However, he added, WHO had assisted Yemen in producing a proposal for the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS in which the country hopes to get US $14 million. With that funding, patients could start getting antiretroviral drugs by the end of this year – although a system needed to be created through which the treatment would be provided.

The participants stressed the importance of exchanging views and experience with each other.

"We have received a lot of useful information about the HI virus which should not looked at as a sin but a problem that we all should join hands to combat," said Sheikh Ahmed Othman, a participant from Sudan.

According to UNAIDS, there are about half a million HIV/AIDS cases reported in the Arab region – with around 92,000 new cases each year. In Yemen, the exact magnitude of the problem has not been determined, although UNAIDS estimates indicate adult prevalence of 0.1 percent.

There are, however, indications that this is a growing problem.

The National AIDS Programme surveillance report indicates that the cumulative number of HIV/AIDS cases reported by the end of 2004 stood at 1,600. With the absence of sufficient data, however, officials say there could be more unreported cases.

"We started with 15 religious leaders in Yemen. This core team will expand and take the initiative and train their colleagues in the whole country," said Khaled Abdo al-Magead of UNDP.