YEMEN: RELIGIOUS LEADERS DISCUSS ANTI-AIDS
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.
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
"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
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.