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Religious Leaders Meet in Kenya to Discuss New Approach to AIDS Epidemic

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By Katherine Weber, Christian Post Reporter
November 29, 2011|10:03 pm

With World AIDS Day approaching December 1, Christian and Muslim leaders met in Nairobi, Kenya to discuss new approaches to the AIDS/HIV epidemic.

Leaders met at the "Doing More, Doing Better: Towards Zero New Infections" conference from Nov. 23 to Nov. 25.

Members of the conference agreed that in order to be fully conquered, AIDS/HIV must be addressed as a medical issue rather than a moral or religious stigma.

UNAIDS Coordinating Board chairman Ana Isabel Nieto told the conference that one-fourth of all HIV support groups are faith-based, according to ENINews.

The Pan-African Christian AIDS Network, for example, seeks to communicate with AIDS victims via Christian churches and organizations based in Africa.

Similarly, the Christian HIV/AIDS Alliance uses a Christian approach to educate others of the disease’s consequences.

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"It is not always visible or said; it is silent support that should be recognized," Nieto told those gathered at the conference.

Approaching HIV/AIDS as a medical situation rather than a social r moral stigma relates to the discussion of the United Nations General Assembly panel in June, at which Marie Josee-Jacobs, Minister of Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs of Luxembourg, asked: "How can we take HIV out of the shadows if we don’t have the confidence to talk openly about all aspects of the disease, especially with groups affected by it?"

According to UNAIDS statistics, sub-Saharan Africa remains the region most highly-affected by HIV in the world, comprising two-thirds of the 34 million victims infected worldwide.

AIDS/HIV rates have lowered over the past decade, however. UNAIDS shows newly-infected victims dropping from 3.2 million in 2001 to 2.7 million in 2010.

AIDS-related deaths are down 21 percent, their lowest level since 2005.

Religious leaders have previously urged the public to practice abstinence to avoid HIV/AIDS infection. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI said condoms are acceptable in some cases, such as for prostitutes avoiding HIV/AIDS infection.

Condoms reduce the risk of contracting AIDS/HIV by 80-90 percent.

AIDS cases entered the Islamic world in the mid 1980s. Similarly to Catholicism, Islamic countries initially failed to address the AIDS epidemic because it suggested their people engaged in immoral activity, such as pre-marital sex or intravenous drug use.

Although AIDS/HIV carries the stigma of homosexual or sex-worker activity, in actuality the "overwhelming majority" of AIDS infections result from unprotected heterosexual sex, according to the World Health Organization.

The United States will also be participating in World AIDS Day. On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama will accompany former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as anti-AIDS activists, in a World AIDS Day panel.

 

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