Hindu faith leaders commit to AIDS response

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Hindu faith leaders commit to AIDS response

18 June 2008

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Senior Hindu religious leaders agreed to join
the national effort to reverse the spread of
HIV at the first meeting of “Faith in Action:
Hindu Leaders Caucus on HIV/AIDS”.

In a historic initiative by Hindu religious groups, over 70 prominent faith leaders from across India came together to commit to incorporating HIV information into their religious education and training of future faith leaders as well as including AIDS in their discourses, rituals and festival celebrations.

Senior Hindu religious leaders agreed to join the national effort to reverse the spread of HIV at the first meeting of “Faith in Action: Hindu Leaders Caucus on HIV/AIDS”, which took place 1-2 June 2008 at the Art of Living International Centre in Bangalore, India.

Coming together to sign a joint declaration, the religious leaders committed to working with UNAIDS and the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) to increase HIV awareness among young people and to end stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.

Since the early 1990s faith-based organizations have played a leading role in the AIDS response in regions like southern Africa. Hindu groups, along with other religious organizations, have mobilized strongly against AIDS in Africa but this is the first time that such an initiative has taken shape in India.

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“Stigma around the disease can only be
overcome if religious leaders speak about
it openly,” said Sri Sri Ravi Shankar,
founder, Art of Living Foundation.

“Stigma around the disease can only be overcome if religious leaders speak about it openly,” said Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder, Art of Living Foundation. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar will lead a steering committee that will ensure follow-up action by Hindu religious groups across India. This will include training of peer educator networks, prominent public messages to spread awareness and support for families affected by AIDS.

The action plan for the Hindu Leaders Caucus on HIV and AIDS envisages integrating the initiatives of Hindu leaders with State AIDS Control Societies to maximize their influence to spread positive messages in communities.

Hailing the initiative, UNAIDS Country Coordinator in India, Dr Denis Broun said, “continuous guidance from religious leaders will help many people to overcome their prejudice towards people living with HIV as HIV positive people can live a full life and contribute greatly to society.”

JVR Prasada Rao, Director UNAIDS Support Team for Asia and the Pacific said, “Hindu religious leaders can play a big role in our efforts to reverse the epidemic.”

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Mr Oscar Fernandes, Minister of State for
labour and employment said that religious
leaders participation can make a
difference not only to AIDS in India but to
addressing it globally.

His sentiments were echoed by Mr Oscar Fernandes, Minister of State for labour and employment and Convenor of the Parliamentary Forum on AIDS, who said that religious leaders participation can make a difference not only to AIDS in India but to addressing it globally.

There are approximately 920 million Hindus globally making Hinduism the third largest religion in the world after Christianity and Islam.

The two-day conference was jointly organized by the Art of Living Foundation, UNAIDS and the Asian Interfaith Network on AIDS (AINA). In addition to faith leaders, 200 other delegates took part in the event including representatives of the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), state AIDS control societies, members of Parliament, officials from the ministry of health and family welfare, UN agencies as well as non-governmental organizations. Representatives from the World Conference of Religions for Peace and other faith-based organizations also attended.