Faith leaders join in Nigeria on AIDS
04 September 2007
Over 150 leaders from all denominations of Christian and Islamic faith communities came together in Abuja, Nigeria to take stock of faith-based organizations’ achievements and good practices within the AIDS response in the country and to examine challenges faced for the future. Hosted by the National Faith-Based Advisory Committee on AIDS – NFACA, the Forum was opened by the highest Muslim and Christian leaders in the country, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Saad Abubarkar III, represented by Dr Lateef Adegbite, Secretary-General of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and Most Reverend Dr John Onaiyekan, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria.
“I want the Christian and Muslim communities in this Forum to come up with a stronger position on HIV prevention, to do more for people infected and affected, and to be more involved in the campaign against stigma and discrimination,” Dr Adegbite said in his opening address.
Most Reverend Onaiyekan pleaded for more recognition and a commensurate allocation of resources to the faith-based AIDS programmes. “There is growing acknowledgement and appreciation– including among the United Nations agencies – of the tremendous role being played by religious institutions and organizations, especially in the poorer countries of the world. However, put bluntly, the money is not going to those who are doing most of the work. It is hoped that this anomaly will be redressed in good time,” he stated.
The bi-annual Forum is the third to have taken place in Nigeria to strengthen the faith-based response to AIDS in the country. The forums provided unique avenues for the Christian and Islamic faiths to interact and to strategize on their role in the national AIDS response.
At the 2007 Forum, the participants made recommendations on the way forward and on policy and strategic issues relating to HIV prevention, testing, care and support, and gender in the Forum’s communiqué. They agreed that faith-based organizations should identify their areas of competence and do more of what they do best, including HIV prevention, promoting and providing services and caring for people living with HIV. The religious leaders and scholars called for the Nigerian government to accelerate access to free medical treatment and care for all people living with HIV who need it.
On the issue of HIV testing and counseling, the faith leaders committed to mobilizing their communities to access services on a voluntary and confidential basis as they had been exhorted to by Professor Babatunde Osotimehin, Director-General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, in his update on the status of the national response: “HIV generates harmony among faith communities. We expect this Forum to make a strong statement on how to mobilize communities to access voluntary and confidential HIV counseling and testing. Compulsory testing should not be in your vocabulary,” he said.
The Forum was organized by the National Agency for the Control of AIDS and supported by UNFPA and UNAIDS.
UNAIDS Country Coordinator Warren Naamara gave a goodwill message to participants of the Forum, underlining the importance of religious leader’s engagement in the AIDS response. “Your influence on opinions, policies, practices and attitudes reaches from the grassroots and remote communities to the very top level of government and decision-makers. Your compassion and support has always embraced the disenchanted and the vulnerable, the sick, the children and the weak in need of assistance,” he said. “Your speaking out against stigma and discrimination, against rejection and marginalization of people living with HIV, will make a world of difference to the everyday life of people infected, within and beyond their religious communities,” he added.
Read the opening address by Most Rev. John Onaiyekan, President of the Christian
Association of Nigeria
Read the goodwill message by Dr. Warren Naamara, UNAIDS Country Coordinator
Read the Forum Communiqué