March 25, 2010

Religious leaders pledge to end AIDS stigma

by Benjamin Graham

Religious leaders from around the world have pledged the end the stigma against HIV/AIDS.

In many societie, people with the virus are treated as outcasts – which causes many sufferers to keep their infection secret.

“For every two people put on treatment there are another five newly infected,” the faith leaders said this week at a global religious summit in the Netherlands.

“Secrecy and silence” ensures that many people are not treated, and keeps vulnerable people from accessing prevention, testing, and treatment services, they added.

The religious leaders, from Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh groups, also promised to exercise “stronger, more visible and practical leadership” in the fight against AIDS, and to make their faith a more “visible and active” part of the struggle.

“The stigma associated with HIV and AIDS has been like that of no other disease,” said Abune Paulos, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and president of the World Council of Churches.

“Stigma and discrimination help make AIDS a silent killer, because people fear the social disgrace of speaking about it.”

He added that “religious leaders have a lot of assignments left undone. They themselves are not willing to talk about the HIV-related stigma and discrimination.

“We need to revisit the traditions of our respective religious institutions and engage ourselves more than ever in this regard.”

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