Feature story

Religious and traditional leaders discuss HIV at ICASA 2008

05 December 2008

Credit: UNAIDS/Mamadou Gomis

Opinions on sexuality and condom use vary depending on the different beliefs of religious and traditional leaders in Africa. Nonetheless, today at ICASA there was general agreement that regardless of an individual’s choices, human beings should be treated equally and with respect.

“We cannot fight AIDS if part of the population is marginalized,” said panelist Fatima Ball. “We have to take care of everybody but especially the most vulnerable”.

Religious and traditional leaders reflected on their roles and responsibilities in the response to the HIV on Friday in a session moderated by UNAIDS Director of Partnerships and External Relations Mr Elhadj Amadou Sy. The session took the form of a debate, where the audience posed questions to the panel.

Recognizing a shared commitment to the AIDS response, it was underlined at the session that religious and traditional leaders have norms and values that can either contribute effectively to the response or can become inhibiting factors.

The session was moderated by UNAIDS Director of Partnerships and External Relations Mr Elhadj Amadou Sy
Credit: UNAIDS/Mamadou Gomis

Religious leaders often have high expectations placed upon them by their local communities. As a result, they may be charged with reaching out to communities and addressing a complex range of social behaviours and attitudes. Although religious leaders are often best placed to address these aspects, many expressed that they do not have sufficient levels of support to perform their roles.

Equipping traditional leaders with knowledge of HIV and how it is transmitted, and strengthening their skills, was seen as an important way forward.

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UNAIDS Director of Partnerships and External Relations Elhadj Amadou Sy discusses the outcomes of a meeting of religious and traditional leaders. Dakar, 5 December 2008

External links:

Official web site of ICASA 2008