Arab Religious Leaders in Egypt to Combat HIV/AIDS
November 6, 2006
More than 300 religious leaders from 20 Arab countries are in Cairo today for a three-day conference to discuss HIV/AIDS and fight the region's epidemic. Taboos surrounding the STD have hampered prevention efforts, participants heard.
"It's time to stop what happens in some Arab countries -- like expelling [HIV-positive people] from their community," said Nancy Bakir, Arab League assistant secretary-general. "It is time to get rid of the fictitious ideas of AIDS and its spread."
The grand imam of Cairo's Al-Azhar Mosque, Sheikh Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Mussa are featured speakers Tuesday.
The UN Development Program characterizes the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Arab countries as one of low prevalence. However, the region "has one of the faster growing HIV infection rates in the world," UNDP states. The agency estimates there are 720,000 HIV-positive people in the Arab region. In 2006, however, up to 210,00 adults and children were newly infected, and a new infection occurs every 10 minutes, according to UNDP. If trends prevail, the region will face a generalized epidemic by 2015, said UNDP.
"I had no idea we have had AIDS in Egypt," said Mohammed Taha Diab Allam, an attendee who preaches in Egypt's northern Kafr el-Sheikh province.
"It's going to take a lot of work to change people's mentality about the virus," said Father Abram Ramzy, a Coptic priest from Sudan. "It won't just take a year or two, but hopefully if we bring the subject up, it will encourage HIV-positive people to come forward, and we can start tackling the problem properly." The first such conference was held in Cairo in 2004.
Agence France Presse