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International News

Bangladesh: Anti-HIV/AIDS Efforts Follow Men to Mosques

November 21, 2002

These days, Imam Maulana Athikur Rahman’s Friday sermons at a mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh, touch on religion, life -- and risky sex. "I tell my congregation, ‘Never engage in sex with any woman other than your wife. Never engage in homosexual activities either,’" said Rahman. "As the Holy Koran says, both are strictly forbidden in Islam," he added. "And then I explain to them how HIV is transmitted ..."

Despite Bangladesh’s low HIV prevalence of 2 percent, there are considerably high levels of premarital and extramarital sex and a very low rate of condom use in commercial sex, which has many clients. Increasing intravenous drug abuse, unscreened blood transfusion, and lack of awareness are all major challenges.

Athikur Rahman was trained about HIV/AIDS at the Imam Training Academy, run by the government’s ministry of religious affairs. Some 20,000 imams have received Islam-based HIV prevention training, ITA says.

Rahman’s sermons leave out condoms, saying they are "only needed when one engages in illicit sex outside wedlock or in homosexual activity." Rahman does ask his all-male congregation to pass on HIV information and relevant religious restrictions to their female kin.

"If one does get the virus, I tell them, then it is his or her responsibility to protect his/her lawful partner. And for that, [a] condom is the answer," said ITA HIV/AIDS instructor and National AIDS Committee head A.S.M. Matiur Rahman.

M. Abbas Uddin, head of the Islamic Research Cell of the Family Planning Association of Bangladesh and a former prayer leader, said, "I don’t see why religious leaders cannot promote condom[s] for safe sex. If they have enough knowledge, if they understand human behavior and limitations, there is no religious bar for them to do so."

"The reality is that people do have polygamous behavior," said Dr. Smarajit Jana of CARE, which runs the largest HIV prevention program in Bangladesh, "and the majority of those who get HIV infection get it through the sexual route. HIV prevention therefore cannot gain without promoting safe sex, of which condom promotion is an essential factor. To be meaningful, any such program [must] overcome the argument that promoting condom [use] is promoting immoral activity."

Back to other CDC news for November 21, 2002

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Inter Press Service
11.15.2002; Qurratul Ain Tahmina

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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