Fourteen church leaders in Lesotho have signed a declaration pledging to fight the spread of HIV in the country, UNAIDS said on Wednesday in Maseru, Lesotho, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. According to UNAIDS and the National AIDS Commission, an estimated 29,000 new HIV cases occurred in Lesotho in 2007, bringing the total number of cases to more than 270,000. Of the total cases, 16,000 occur among children younger than age 14, according to the agencies.
Under the declaration, church leaders pledged to promote the equality, dignity and rights of all people, especially those living with HIV/AIDS. They also pledged to discuss openly HIV/AIDS and prevention methods, as well as to reject statements that associate the disease with a form of "divine punishment." The Rev. Daniel Rantle of the Methodist Church of Africa said, "This is the first time that the ecumenical society has spoken out with one powerful voice, and we are strategically placed to reach people from all walks of life and be catalysts for positive and lasting action."
The Rev. Mokhakhlane, spokesperson for the church leaders, in a statement said, "The tragic toll of the AIDS epidemic brings compelling urgency to the call for a renewed commitment by religious leaders to achieve universal access for all to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, as well as impact mitigation" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 7/11).
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