UNFPA Afghanistan Press Briefing Notes, 31 Jul 2005: Religious Leaders to fight HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS is not yet a crisis in Afghanistan but all the conditions are present to make it one if something is not done soon. During a two-day national workshop for religious leaders held on July 28th and 29th 2005, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) stated that there are about 37 HIV positive cases identified and an estimated 700 - 800 unidentified cases. The 80 religious leaders from all 34 provinces of Afghanistan learnt about HIV/AIDS and then through discussion decided on ways the spread of the disease could be prevented. Finally they worked out a 12-point plan of actions needed to be taken to fight HIV/AIDS.

This workshop was organized by the MoPH in close cooperation with the Ministry of Religious Affairs and support of UNFPA and Global Fund. Professor Abdul Rab Rasool Sayaf, Shaikh Mohammad Asif Muhseni, Peer Said Ishaq Gelani, H.E. the Minister of Public Health, Mr. Fatemi, Minister of Religious Affairs Mr. N. Shahrani, Deputy Representative of UNFPA Mr. Athanase Nzokirishaka, 80 religious leaders from 34 provinces of the country, other government officials and media journalists participated in the workshop.

Opening the workshop Mr. Fatemi, Minister of Religious Affairs, welcomed the religious scholars and briefed them on the statistics of HIV positive cases, the current situation in Afghanistan and the affect of an HIV/AIDS epidemic on the social, developmental and the political life of the people.

Professor Sayaf pointed out that, following Islamic rules and regulations is the only way of full prevention of HIV/AIDS epidemic in the society as Islam advices human beings to save others lives.

Mr. Athanase Nzokirishaka, the UNFPA Deputy Representative in his speech said: "HIV/AIDS is the most catastrophic tragedy of our time. HIV/AIDS does not discriminate. Everyone is at risk regardless of age race, class, income or religion. No one knows the actual number of people infected with HIV/AIDS in Afghanistan but the conditions are present for a dramatic increase in infections such as a lot of people are returning from abroad, poor living conditions, weak surveillance and control systems and a large number of young people who are the most sexually active."

He stated that HIV/AIDS should be a priority for all institutions concerned with development and that religious leaders can help stop the spread of HIV/AIDS by taking what they learn at this workshop back to their people and informing them.

The workshop included introduction of HIV/AIDS, symptoms and prevention of this disease, group discussions, presentations, question and answer sessions and making recommendations and a work plan for future activities.

The religious leaders during their discussion agreed that the following ways are effective in preventing spread of HIV/AIDS in Afghanistan:

1. Being sexually faithful to a single life partner.

2. Using condoms if one or ones life partner has HIV

3. Testing blood before blood transfusions.

4. The sterilization of all equipment by doctors, dentists and barbers.

At the end of the workshop the religious leaders came up with 12-point work plan to prevent spread of HIV/AIDS in the country, which included the following:

- Religious Leaders should include the information they gained from the workshop in their mosques.

- MoPH, MoRA with the support of the donors should assist the religious leaders to organize regional workshops on the same subject for religious leaders from districts.

- IEC material on HIV/AIDS produced by the MoPH should be sent to the provincial department of the MoRA for distribution through religious leaders.

- Afghanistan National Radio and TV should initiate weekly special programmes on HIV/AIDS.

At the end of the workshop all of the religious leaders restated their commitment to play their part in fighting HIV/AIDS.

UNFPA CO, Kabul - Afghanistan.

Media Contact: A.Q.Karim, Advocacy and Information Officer, Tel: 070 203 118, E-mail: