More than 80 Arab religious leaders this week signed an AIDS declaration at a gathering in Cairo that lays the groundwork for a cooperative response to AIDS in the Middle East, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports. Although most religious officials still condemn homosexuality and associate HIV with immoral behavior, they were able to agree on the declaration's call to "reject and emphasize the necessity to abolish all forms of discrimination, isolation, marginalization, and stigmatization of people living with HIV/AIDS. We insist on defending their basic freedoms and human rights." While not condoning sexual promiscuity or homosexuality, the declaration acknowledges that outreach is needed for many high-risk groups, including injection-drug users, gays, and sex workers. "Although we do not approve of such behaviors, we call on them to repent and ask that treatment and rehabilitation programs be developed," the declaration says.
The signing of the declaration came at the end of a three-day conference organized by the United Nations Development Program that brought together Christian and Muslim leaders to discuss ways to combat the spread of HIV. Most of the religious leaders who signed the declaration promote abstinence and faithfulness to prevent HIV infections. "We needed this green light from religious leaders so politicians can go ahead with [enacting] laws that would protect vulnerable groups from being infected. Now they have spoken, and we can begin to take action," Khadija Moalla, director of the UNDP's AIDS program for the Middle East, told the German news service.