March 29, 2007
At a UN Development Program meeting yesterday in Bahrain, Sayed Aqa, UNDP's country coordinator and representative, said HIV/AIDS cases have increased 300 percent in the Arab world over the past three years. "This is against an annual rate of increase of 20 percent in the United States, Japan, Europe, and Australia," Ali Salman Saleh, a UNDP analyst and HIV/AIDS program coordinator, told the more than 40 Muslim and Christian leaders gathered to discuss faith-based perspectives in combating HIV/AIDS.
More than 39 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS. "This ranks the disease as one of the worst infectious diseases of modern history," Aqa said. "The Arab region is not an exception, as there are more than 460,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the region, with 36,000 deaths last year in the Arab region alone."
"The staggering rate of increase is mainly due to factors like ignorance, lack of awareness, denial, and misinterpretation of facts," said Saleh.
Saleh said next month UNDP will hold two separate workshops for male and female religious leaders. Experts from UNAIDS and the Regional Program on AIDS in Arab states will train religious leaders to effectively incorporate an HIV campaign with religious perspectives, he said.
In Bahrain, where the number of HIV/AIDS cases is still relatively low, the challenge will be to prevent the disease's spread. "This is where we believe religious leaders can and should play an active role," said Aqa. The views and statement of religious scholars are highly respected by the public, especially youths, he said. "This is why their support is critical to make sure people are rightly guided."