Lebanon on Monday opened a three-day conference for religious leaders in the country to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS issues, the Daily Star reports. More than 60 participants attended the workshop, which was organized by the United Nations Development Program and the Public Health Ministry. In a statement read by UNDP Country Director Seifeldin Abbaro, UNDP Resident Representative Martha Ruedas said, "Until now, the Arab world had not addressed the issue of HIV/AIDS with enough energy because people were too scared or not sufficiently informed to discuss the disease." She added that the situation is beginning to change, according to the Daily Star.
One of the workshop's goals is to acquaint participants with the Cairo Declaration of Religious Leaders in the Arab Region in Response to HIV/AIDS, which was signed in 2004 by 80 religious leaders from 19 Arab countries. It also has been endorsed by more than 300 other leaders. The workshop also discussed the Tripoli Declaration, which was endorsed by 80 female religious leaders who said they would focus on the rights of women and children in relation to HIV/AIDS.
Mostafa Mahmoud al-Nakib -- national AIDS program manager at the health ministry who was representing Health Minister Mohammed Jawad Khalifeh -- said that attitudes in Lebanon need to shift away from the belief that HIV/AIDS affects only sex workers or others who engage in high-risk sex. "Statistics proved that this disease affects everyone," he said, adding, "It does not discriminate against age, gender, religion or nationality." Workshop participants also discussed how to prevent HIV/AIDS-related discrimination, and Ruedas and other speakers stressed that religious leaders should become involved with HIV/AIDS efforts at the grassroots level. "You can access all communities once a week, every week, across Lebanon," Ruedas said, adding, "You work on a daily basis with community-based organizations, and I respectfully tell you that it is you who are well-placed to lead." Participants also were provided with references from the Koran and the Bible to use in their HIV/AIDS work (Tabar, Daily Star, 10/28).
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