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South Asian religious leaders unite to fight AIDS

Leaders of the major religions of South Asia are meeting to discuss how to halt the progression of HIV/AIDS in the region and teach communities to show compassion for the victims.

india Updated: Dec 13, 2003 12:44 IST

Leaders of the major religions of South Asia are meeting here from Thursday to discuss how to halt the progression of HIV/AIDS in the region and teach communities to show compassion for the victims.

Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian and Bahai leaders from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Afghanistan will attend a three-day "South Asia Inter Faith Consultation on Children, Young People and HIV/AIDS" organised by the Unicef Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA).

According to latest estimates, there are nearly five million people living with HIV in the region, 1.25 million of whom are adolescents. A survey on the AIDS/HIV situation in South Asian countries would be released at the conference. "We need to break the wall of silence and stigma," says Sadig Rasheed, Unicef's regional director. "There is a lot of denial surrounding the victims, especially in their families and communities. And AIDS thrives on secrecy."

Unicef ROSA, which is bringing together faith-based groups for the first time to battle the epidemic, says all religions teach forgiveness, tolerance and compassion for the afflicted.

"Religious leaders are respected by their communities and can really influence them," says Rasheed, giving the example of southern Africa - South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana - where religious leaders have played a remarkable role in raising awareness about the disease as well as counselling the victims. "Most of the AIDS patients are victims," he emphasises.

First Published: Dec 04, 2003 14:31 IST