AIDS fight needs religious leaders

Involving religious leaders is an essential measure to address HIV/AIDS issue in Muslim countries, said visiting human-rights activist Marina Mahathir on Tuesday, reports

Mahathir, a member of the International Steering Committee for the Asia Pacific Leadership Forum on HIV and AIDS, was sharing her experience on awareness campaigns at the city’s Independent University of Bangladesh (IUB).

The seminar titled ‘HIV/AIDS: Facing the Challenges’ was the first in a series of seminar to be held countrywide, Professor M Omar Rahman, pro-vice-chancellor of IUB, said in his welcome note.

Explaining the perils of running campaigns on such sensitive issue as AIDS in Malaysia, Mahathir said their major challenges were social and religious sensitivity and the mindset of people toward AIDS victims.

Marina Mahathir, for Independent Bangladesh

"Back in 1993, when I started to work, Malaysians thought that only drug abusers and sex-workers could catch AIDS," said the daughter of Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

She underlined the need for the right approach to confront the problem being a sensitive issue.

They had worked closely with the Alems and Ulamas to develop a series of training workshop for Imams at the grassroots level to build awareness, said Mahathir.

"And they (Imams) took it very much positively as they were already facing the problem from the locality they belonged to," she added.

Mahathir, who is also a journalist, told the seminar that the problem of HIV/AIDS could be tackled in different angles but the best way was ‘faith-based angle’.

Speaking on Bangladesh, she said numbers of HIV-positive people are still low.

"So don’t miss the opportunity; you need to act fast as it would be more cost-effective now", she added.

She emphasised pressuring the government in making available drugs needed for AIDS-infected people.

Mahathir also met with home adviser MA Matin and later told reporters that she was satisfied with the rights of women and HIV/AIDS situation in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh was in a very good condition in these two sectors, she said.

The use of secondhand syringes needs to be stopped since it was the one of the influential mediums of spreading AIDS, she said.

The human-rights worker said her country did not use such syringe.

She was accompanied by other delegates and Bangladesh Centre for Development, Journalism and Communication (BCDJC) chairman and daily Amader Shomoy editor Nayeemul Islam Khan.

She arrived in Bangladesh early Monday on a six-day visit at the invitation of BCDJC to give a talk on a seminar on media and gender equity.

She is scheduled to visit to Chittagong Wednesday, the home ministry sources said.

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