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Public health authorities in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir have found an unexpected ally in their battle against HIV/AIDS in the deeply conservative region. The Jammu-Kashmir state-run AIDS Prevention and Control Society has enlisted hundreds of Islamic clerics to carry the message of safe sexual practices to Muslim believers, and the state's mosques and seminaries have become the vanguard of an anti-AIDS campaign, officials said Friday.
Top Muslim cleric Mufti Nazir Ahmed usually weaves his sermons at a mosque in Kashmir around Islamic tenets that urge Muslims to refrain from promiscuity and homosexuality--widely believed to be among the major reasons for the spread of HIV.
''Wherever I deliver a sermon, I talk about AIDS. Methods to prevent AIDS corresponds exactly with the teachings of Islam. If one follows the Islamic way, by no means can one contract AIDS,'' Ahmed told the Associated Press on Friday.
Jammu and Kashmir AIDS Prevention and Control Society says it has trained 600 Islamic clerics to spread the message of safe sexual practices.
''Islamic scholars have helped us in a big way to spread the anti-AIDS message, and I can proudly say that today 90% of the population in Jammu-Kashmir knows about the disease,'' said Mohammad Amin, a state health official.
At least 37 people have died of AIDS complications in Jammu-Kashmir over the last decade, while another 931 people have tested positive for HIV, he said. India, with 5.7 million HIV-positive people, has the highest number of HIV cases in the world.
Muneer Ahmed Masoodi, a community health officer, said the participation of religious scholars has brought down AIDS infection rates in Ghana, Senegal, and Uganda. ''WHO [the World Health Organization] and the United Nations have been convinced by the experiment,'' Masoodi said.
To avoid offense, Islamic preachers avoid references to condoms in their sermons.
''Faith plays a great role in modeling the behavior of a person, and we have effectively used it in our campaign against AIDS,'' said Amin. (AP)