Bangkok, 15 July 2004 – Faith-based leaders from across South Asia launched a bold initiative to provide leadership and mobilise communities and resources in responding to the growing HIV/AIDS crisis, especially among young people.
The South Asia Inter-Religious Council on HIV/AIDS established during the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok this week, will include senior representatives of Hindu, Moslem, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh, Jain and Baha’i faiths.
“This partnership breaks new and fertile ground,” said Dr. Sadig Rasheed, UNICEF’s Regional Director for South Asia. “Millions of people across the region are unsure how best to react to HIV/AIDS. And their spiritual leaders are uniquely placed to provide comfort and guidance to those affected by the disease. Their examples can help end the stigma and discrimination that perpetuate HIV/AIDS.”
The initiative is a direct outcome of the “South Asia Interfaith Consultation on Children, Young People and HIV/AIDS” organised by UNICEF in Kathmandu in December 2003. At the meeting, participants pledged to strengthen their cooperation in addressing the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The new alliance recognises the tremendous capacities of faith-based organizations in delivering direct support to communities.
“Religious communities have tremendous influence that can be brought to bear in addressing the complex and far-reaching social challenges of HIV/AIDS,” said Jim Cairns, director of advocacy and action for children at the World Conference on Religions for Peace. “This alliance among faith-based groups in South Asia provides a vital entry point for reaching tens of millions of people with much needed spiritual, moral and social support.”
Young people are at the centre of South Asia’s fast growing HIV/AIDS problem. More than half of all new HIV infections each day are among young people, many of whom lack the most basic knowledge and support to protect themselves from HIV infection.
Akharul Wasey, interim convenor of the Council and a leading scholar of Islamic studies, said the group’s work would respect religious differences.
“The Council is intended to provide a platform where common concerns can provide a starting point for developing a shared agenda,” Wasey said. “And we are grateful for the support being provided by UNICEF and the World Conference on Religions for Peace in helping establish and maintain this new alliance.”
Council members include representatives from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. They will hold their first meeting in November in New Delhi.
For more information, please contact:
Ian MacLeod, UNICEF, 06 048 6843; Susan Curran, UNICEF, 01 906 0813
Liza Barrie, UNICEF, 07 902 9944; US mobile 1-646 207-5178