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Arab Religious Leaders Sign AIDS Declaration in Cairo

December 13, 2004

Today in Cairo, some 80 major Arab religious leaders signed an HIV/AIDS declaration that marks the first cornerstone for tangible response to AIDS in the region. "What we have achieved today is revolutionary," said Khadija Moalla, director of the HIV/AIDS regional program in the Middle East at the UN Development Program. The declaration said those with HIV/AIDS are "our brothers and sisters and we stand by them seeking God's healing for each one of them."

The declaration's signing came at the end of a three-day conference organized by UNDP during which Muslim and Christian leaders discussed ways to deal with AIDS. Most religious officials in the region have called only for abstinence and faithfulness to prevent HIV/AIDS; they associate the disease with immoral behavior.

A breakthrough was reached, however, on such issues as the importance of reaching out to at-risk groups like sex workers, drug users and homosexuals. "Although we do not approve of such behaviors, we call on them to repent and ask that treatment and rehabilitation programs be developed," the document stated. "We reject and emphasize the necessity to abolish all forms of discrimination, isolation, marginalization and stigmatization of people living with HIV/AIDS. We insist on defending their basic freedoms and human rights," it said.

"We needed this green light from religious leaders so politicians can go ahead with putting laws that would protect vulnerable groups from being infected. Now they have spoken and we can begin to take action," said Moalla.

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Excerpted from:
Deutsche Presse-Agentur

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