The Associated Press
Published: November 9, 2006
CAIRO, Egypt: For the first time in the Arab world, Muslim and
Christian clerics from 20 countries have together launched a project to
tackle HIV/AIDS in their societies.
Announced at the end of the four-day Regional Forum for Religious
Leaders on AIDS, the scheme aims to break the stigma attached the
disease in the Arab world as well as provide medical support and
counseling for HIV patients and their families.
"We have developed a plan of action to urgently respond to what is
amounting to a region living on the brink of an epidemic," said Father
Hady Aya, a conference delegate from the Maronite Church in Lebanon,
where he works for the Justice and Mercy organization.
Silence about the nature and prevalence of HIV/AIDS tends to be the
norm in the Arab world, where conservative traditions discourage any
public discussion of sex. People who have tested positive for the HIV
virus are often shunned and suffer discrimination.
"AIDS is an evil that is devouring Arab societies," said Rania Abdel
Rahman, an activist from Sudan, which has by far the highest infection
rate in the Arab world. The United Nations AIDS program and the WHO
estimate that Sudan has 350,000 people infected with HIV more than 10
times the estimate for any other Arab country.
Today in Africa & Middle East
The plan endorsed Thursday by 300 clerics Shiite Muslim, Sunni
Muslim and various Christian denominations is the first pan-Arab
initiative to combat the spread of the disease, either from the public
or private sector.
The clerics named it "Chahama," the Arabic word for magnanimity,
saying the term conveyed "the necessary attitude" toward tackling
The document distributed at the forum said the plan envisages steps
to promote chastity, avoid prostitution, and to provide medical care and
counseling spiritual as well as practical for HIV victims and their
There was no estimate of the annual cost of the plan, but the
document said money would be raised through donations from mosques,
private individuals as well as NGOs and international bodies. The plan
will establish a Chahama bank account to receive donations in every Arab
"AIDS has ravaged my people for years," said Abdel Rahman from Sudan.
"I don't want to see this monster do the same to the region. We have to