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Pakistani religious leaders pledge to ‘break the silence’ around HIV/AIDS

© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Zaidi
UNICEF Senior Program Officer Ronald van Dijk addressing the inaugural session of the First Meeting of the Inter-Religious Council of HIV/AIDS in Islamabad.

By A. Sami Malik

NEW YORK, 19 April 2005 – Pakistani religious leaders assembled for the First Meeting of the Inter-Religious Council of HIV/AIDS in Islamabad, Pakistan to discuss how to create a caring society free of HIV-related stigma and discrimination.

The leaders agreed to ‘break the silence’ by talking about the HIV virus in Friday sermons and community meetings.

They pledged to involve women religious leaders in carrying the anti-HIV message to the women of Pakistan.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Zaidi
Ghulam Mustafa Bokhari, a religious leader from Punjab, reading a leaflet on sexually transmitted diseases.

Religious leaders, government, civil society and communities at the national, provincial and local levels will all be encouraged to engage in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“We have to be proactive. We cannot wait for crises to happen before we start to do something. We have to be informed about HIV and its various dimensions. We can use spiritual teachings to emphasize compassion, healing and support for people living with HIV,” said Professor Akhtar-ul-Wasey, Secretary General of the South Asia Inter-Religious Council.

UNICEF Pakistan Senior Program Officer Ronald van Dijk told the meeting that the latest figures indicate that more than 5.2 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in South Asia and that there are serious epidemics in all countries – including Pakistan.

In Pakistan, the majority of people living with HIV are between 15 and 29 years old. The latest reporting indicates that 2,400 people in Pakistan are HIV-positive, but it is estimated that a further 80,000 have contracted the virus but are not counted in the official reports.



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