Faith Leaders Urged to Tackle HIV/AIDS Together

Leaders of different faiths from around the world have been urged to work together in tackling HIV and AIDS.

A meeting held on the eve of the AIDS2010 conference brought together some 200 representatives of the Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths from Africa, Asia and Europe.

During the gathering, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Jan Beagle asked the leaders to help confront discriminatory laws, such as those that criminalize homosexual relations and sex workers.

She said faith groups could bridge science, culture, religion and communities.

"There is much more that unites us than divides us, in our response to HIV. We are all in this together. Success depends on our collective efforts," Beagle said.

"Sometimes we can find ourselves with very different perspectives on these thorny issues and we need to strive towards dialogue and approaches that work to save lives, that empower people living with HIV, women, and marginalized groups within societies to take leadership roles within their communities to eliminate stigma, discrimination and violence," she added.

Among those in attendance was the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, who spoke of the need for people of faith to work with HIV sufferers regardless of their theological convictions.

"If we replace HIV in that question with any other disease, why shouldn't faith compel us to do everything we possibly can to tackle the disease? Our faith compels us to act and not to get stuck in discussions we don't need, such as about sin," he said.

Meanwhile, Veena O'Sullivan of Christian development agency Tearfund said that the Church had an unparalleled reach in the developing world, where it is has been a vehicle for mobilizing thousands of volunteers to care for HIV and AIDS sufferers.

The manager of Tearfund's HIV unit stressed the need for the church to engage in the HIV and AIDS without prejudice or discrimination.

"The Church's record is not unblemished. Judgmental attitudes, which see HIV as a punishment for sin and immorality, have contributed to creating another epidemic – of stigma and discrimination," O'Sullivan said.

"HIV is not a moral judgment but a virus that can affect anyone. It is vital that the church acknowledges and addresses harmful attitudes where they remain," she stated.

The meeting was held on the eve of AIDS2010, a biennial AIDS conference bringing together 20,000 health workers, scientists, academics, grassroots workers and HIV and AIDS sufferers.

AIDS2010 kicked of Sunday in Vienna and concludes Friday.

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