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Advocates in Sierra Leone Call on Religious Leaders to Take Lead on Raising HIV/AIDS Awareness

January 28, 2008

Religious leaders should increasingly become involved with the fight against HIV/AIDS in Sierra Leone, the Rev. Cannon Gideon Byamugisha said on Monday at a two-day conference aimed at addressing the issue, the Concord Times/AllAfrica.com reports. The meeting was organized by Christian Aid and Promotion of Sexual Health and Education in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Byamugisha said that people who have been tested for HIV/AIDS often are afraid to disclose their status, adding, "I was tested positive in 1992. I was given six months to live by the doctor." He said that partnering with religious leaders would be extremely effective in fighting HIV/AIDS (Concord Times/AllAfrica.com, 1/24).

POSHE Director Valerie Tucker said that Byamugisha and Sheik Muhamad Kibudde, who also spoke at the conference, had "openly disclosed their HIV-positive status" and are members of the African Network of Religious Leaders Living With or Personally Affected by HIV and AIDS (Horner, Concord Times/AllAfrica.com, 1/24). Tucker also said that social stigma attached to HIV/AIDS often discourages HIV-positive people from speaking out and makes others reluctant to seek testing. She called on religious leaders to help raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and support people living with the disease (Concord Times/AllAfrica.com, 1/24). Tucker said the leaders are very powerful in Sierra Leone, adding, "If we were to cut down on the spread of HIV epidemic, it is necessary that religious leaders take the lead" (Horner, Concord Times/AllAfrica.com, 1/24).

Brima Kargbo, director of Sierra Leone's National AIDS Secretariat, said the HIV/AIDS pandemic has expanded from a health issue to a development issue, adding that all development sectors and the public should become involved in fighting the disease. Sierra Leone's first lady, Sia Koroma, also called on politicians, teachers, advocacy groups and faith leaders to work together to address the epidemic. "The consequences of stigma and discrimination could be devastating at different levels. People are unlikely to get tested for HIV if they thought that they were going to be condemned should they be tested positive," she said (Concord Times/AllAfrica.com, 1/24).

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