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Somali Religious Leaders Increase Efforts to Reduce Stigma, Discrimination for People Living With HIV/AIDS

March 31, 2009

Islamic religious leaders in Somalia are increasing efforts to reduce stigma and discrimination against HIV-positive people in the country, IRIN/Plus News reports. Religious leaders in the predominantly Muslim country are encouraging people to treat HIV-positive people with respect and are becoming involved in HIV prevention efforts, according to IRIN/Plus News.

Sheikh Mohamed Haji Mahamoud Hersi, who is part of a traveling organization of Muslim leaders, said, "As religious leaders we feel it is one of our main duties to be kind and helpful to the less fortunate members of society," adding, "Islam is about compassion, and people living with HIV deserve to be treated with kindness." IRIN/Plus News reports that Hersi was one of the first religious leaders in the country to advocate for better treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS, who face "constant stigma, are ostracized and often even thrown out of their homes." According to Hersi, people in Somalia "really listen" to religious leaders and might "accept" HIV-positive people if they see leaders engaging people living with HIV/AIDS. Talowadag, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations that provides care for people living with HIV/AIDS, recently held a meeting with 24 religious leaders, and all but one agreed to provide counseling to HIV-positive people, according to Gulleid Osman, executive director of the group.

IRIN/Plus News reports that the United Nations Development Program and UNAIDS have trained religious leaders to help local residents change their behavior toward HIV-positive people. UNDP is also partnering with the Somaliland AIDS Commission, local NGOs and Muslim scholars to agree on the formal role of religious leaders in HIV prevention (IRIN/Plus News, 3/27).

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