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Sudan religious leaders campaign in favour of people living with HIV/AIDS

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February 25, 2008 (KHARTOUM) — Religious leaders and specialists gathered in a two day workshop last week to finalize a training curriculum to build the capacity of religious leaders in responding to HIV/AIDS in Sudan.

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Some of teh participants in the two day religious meeting for People Living with HIV/AIDS (UN)

Over 50 key religious leaders from both the Christian and Muslim faiths joined together to fully endorse the first training curriculum. This module focuses on enabling religious figures to promote spiritual values of care and compassion for People Living with HIV/AIDS.

Associations for People Living with HIV/AIDS, UN representatives, and government representatives all attended the ceremony. The event was hosted and organized by the Ministry of Guidance and Endowment, in collaboration with Sudan National AIDS Programme and supported by UNDP.

Sunday’s event came as a demonstration of commitment from religious leaders and government officials to advocate for the protection of the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS. The event included speeches from key religious and governmental figures who expressed their determination to support people living with HIV/AIDS.

This event is the outcome of the first forum held in 2006 which brought together approximately 100 Christian and Muslim religious leaders to discuss their role in responding to HIV/AIDS in Sudan.

The forum was organized by Sudan National AIDS Programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Guidance and Endowment. The Ministry of Guidance and Endowment, committed itself to establishing an AIDS Council in the Ministry with the mandate to build the capacity of the religious leaders to effectively contribute to the HIV/AIDS response in Sudan.

With a strong reference to the religious teachings of compassion, Tabitha Butrus, Federal Minister of Health emphasized the role of women and said “I also wish to call on religious leaders to stand up to their responsibility in this society and raise the awareness of the public in order for them to assist those living with HIV/AIDS and refrain from discriminating against them.”

Bishop Adi Ambrose, Director of Churches, Ministry of Guidance and Endowment, stressed that people living with HIV/AIDS have been “rejected, disowned and thrown out of their homes. As people who love God, we need to stand together and give hope to those losing hope”. He also made it clear that HIV/AIDS “has no tribe, no culture and no religion” therefore Muslims and Christians alike must unify their efforts to respond to this disease.

Recognizing HIV/AIDS as a crisis of “enormous spiritual, social, economical and political proportions”, Jerzy Skuratowicz, UNDP Sudan Country Director, highlighted the tolerant and hospitable nature of Sudanese society, and addressed the religious leaders saying “we hope that your esteemed support will help people living with HIV/AIDS to be pulled out of this isolation as your religious guidance and leadership is instrumental in eliminating stigma and discrimination.”

Bishop Sarabamon, Orthodox Church, said “we should not discriminate against those who have HIV/AIDS; we should encourage them to overcome their disease.” Speaking to those fearing people living with HIV/AIDS, he reminded them that “God forgives and calls on us to forgive and to exercise tolerance and clemency when dealing with others.”

Alfatih Mukhtar Mohamed, Head of External Relations and Communication at the Ministry of Guidance and Endowment, stated that “religious leaders have access to all sectors of the society and this is why we highlight their important role in the fight against AIDS. Also reminding the audience of the universality of humanity, Mr. Mukhtar concluded that “an individual living with HIV/ AIDS is someone passing through an ordeal and who God wished to test; he is our brother and we should not discriminate against him.”

Speaking on behalf of the Presidential Advisory for Authentication Affairs, Abubakr Chol Deng, concluded the ceremony by commending the efforts of SNAP, The Ministry of Guidance and Endowment, The Ministry of Health and the UNDP in responding to HIV/AIDS in Sudan. He further asserted that the newly endorsed curriculum will be used in all regions of the country.

(ST)

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