Religious Leaders Debate HIV/AIDS Prevention Methods, Do Not Endorse Barrier Contraceptives
More than 80 Muslim and Christian leaders on Monday at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Cairo, Egypt, debated methods to prevent the spread of HIV but did not endorse the U.N. position supporting the use of barrier contraceptives to prevent transmission of the virus, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. However, the religious leaders acknowledged "the medical call for the use of different prevention means," according to the AP/Sun. Khadija Moalla, an official with the United Nations Development Programme who focuses on the Arab world, said, "It is not that easy to challenge centuries of certain positions," but she added that the conference was needed "because policymakers were really scared of religious leaders. It was their alibi for not working on AIDS or even doing small things. Now we do know there are people with HIV, and we can move on." U.N. spokesperson Nadine Shamounki said, "Just getting these large figures and these religious communities to speak about something in a manner that was extremely open was quite revolutionary," adding, "It's a totally unexpected and refreshing approach (compared to the view) that God was punishing these people." The leaders released a joint declaration emphasizing the importance of reaching out to "vulnerable" groups -- including commercial sex workers, injection drug users and men who have sex with men -- but also called on such people for "repentance," according to the AP/Sun. Moalla said that religious leaders have moved from supporting only abstinence and fidelity as means of fighting HIV/AIDS to supporting "compassion, helping ill people and fighting discrimination," according to the AP/Sun. According to UNDP, there are approximately 540,000 HIV-positive people living in the Arab world, but the number of new HIV cases has increased 28% since 2002 (Castaneda, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 12/13).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.