TrainingWorkshop for National Religious Leaders on the “Response to HIV/AIDS”

29 Oct 2011

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Under the patronage of H.E Minister of Public Health Dr. Mohamed Jawad Khalifeh and with the presence of UNDP Country Director Mr. Seifeddine Abbaro representing UNDP Resident Representative Ms. Marta Ruedas, the National Aids Control Program and the United Nations Development Program, in cooperation with the HIV/AIDS Regional Program in the Arab States, organized from 27 through 29 October a training workshop for national religious leaders on HIV/AIDS, at the Safir Heliopolitan Hotel.

The expansion of the HIV/AIDS in many countries urged international organizations and especially the United Nations development Program represented by the regional office for HIV/AIDS in the Arab countries to respond towards such expansion. Regional workshops were organized for religious leaders from many Arab countries where Muslim and Christian religious leaders committed themselves to insure a better future for the communities. It was stressed during these workshops that moral and religious values urge us to protect the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS.

The national training workshop aimed at involving religious leaders in the national HIV/AIDS response through raising their awareness and sensitizing them with regard to various aspects of the epidemic, including stigma and discrimination. In addition, the workshop aimed at building on the momentum gained in the Regional Religious Leaders Colloquium and familiarizing participants with the Cairo Declaration of Religious Leaders in the Arab Region in Response to HIV/AIDS.

Giving Ms. Ruedas Speech, Mr. Abbaro expressed UNDP’s hope in convincing the religious leaders participating in this workshop to become involved in the national HIV/AIDS response by providing them with information on this epidemic, and showing the many aspects of the problem, including the stigma and discrimination people living with HIV suffer from. 

Mr. Abbaro assured UNDP’s recognition to the key role the religious leaders play in the Arab world, while they have access to all sectors of society and can confront stigma and change the community’s values and practice through information and education.

Mr. Abbaro also assured that no one is immune and we are all vulnerable to this disease, calling on the participants to stand up to their responsibilities in this society and to help raise the public’s awareness in order to prevent the expansion of this disease and to assist those living with HIV/AIDS.

Father Hadi Ayya, represented the regional office for HIV/AIDS in the Arab (HARPAS), and assured that the mission from this workshop is to protect our Arab communities in general and Lebanon in particular from the expansion of HIV/AIDS epidemic. He added that their mission targets the vulnerable human being, regardless of his religious or cultural affiliation, in order to build his capacities and enhance his efforts to confront the risks, and to support them in case they want to go back to God. This can be achieved through focusing on religious values and breaking the silence, while targeting the most vulnerable groups with high risk to get infected, and to work on eliminating all forms of discrimination, stigma and marginalization.

Representing H.E. Minister of Public Health Dr. Mohammad Jawad Khalifeh, Dr. Mostapha Al Nakib revealed His Excellency’s appreciation towards the organization of this workshop, showing that statistics proved that this disease affects everyone and does not discriminate against age, gender, religion or nationality.

Dr. Nakib highlighted the role of the national committees established in most of the regional countries, which gather religious leaders, representatives from preventive programmes and local and international organizations. These committees work on elaborating a common national action plan to provide information and advices, and raise awareness among all groups of society.

Dr. Nakib ended his speech assuring that our duty as defenders of our societies is to examine our religious texts into finding solutions that help us come up with successful means to reach all factions of our society and urge them into changing their behavior and raise their awareness by providing them with the information needed to prevent them from the risks to be infected, and therefore preserving their health and preventing HIV/AIDS expansion.

In addition to the opening session, the three days workshop included sessions on HIV/AIDS scientific facts at the regional, local and international level, a movie on the religious leaders initiative, Cairo and Tripoli declarations, Drugs and AIDS, testimonies from people living with HIV, session on the rights of people living with HIV and there families, session to study the Islamic and Christian Guidebooks, session on leadership exercises, women’s rights and HIV/AIDS from a religious perspective.

The three days workshop ended with the distribution of certificates to all participants, and a session to elaborate individual and collective work plan to respond to HIV/AIDS epidemic. We can summarize the suggested work plan as followed: Awareness preachments; Activities and training sessions in youth centers; Awareness campaign for religious leaders who did not participate in this workshop (Training for trainers); Ensure Media coverage; Dissemination of Leaflets, brochures and the Islamic and Christian guidebook to schools and universities; Integration of HIV/AIDS in the educational curriculum; Training and educational sessions for school teachers and university professors.