In the Middle East and North Africa region, religious leaders are essential actors in a successful response to HIV/AIDS as they have legitimacy and a durable presence in local communities. They are uniquely positioned to increase awareness of routes of transmission, reduce the stigma and discrimination attached to HIV/AIDS and reinforce the religious values found in both regionally dominant religions, Islam and Christianity. While conservative social norms have kept the rates of HIV/AIDS infection down, they may also be responsible for the lack of prevention because taboos prevent frank discussion of prevention methods and stand in the way of testing and medical treatment.
With USAID support, a regional religious leaders colloquium in Cairo kicked off an initiative to enlist religious leaders in the response to HIV/AIDS. Following the regional meeting, several workshops were conducted for Egyptian religious leaders, who were asked to develop a work plan of proposed activities that would include religious meetings, awareness raising sessions in schools, universities and places of worship, and incorporating HIV/AIDS messages in public addresses to convey knowledge to the general public. These leaders went on to give speeches and conduct seminars and meetings for the general public, targeting youth, women, adults, and the elderly.
The religious leaders involved in the capacity-building activities reacted positively, becoming committed and devoted to aiding in the effective response to HIV/AIDS. The religion-specific awareness kits, by drawing on inherent religious concepts, gave religious leaders the tools they need to make awareness messages familiar and acceptable. Once they gained knowledge about the disease and had their misconceptions clarified, the audiences to whom these leaders spoke were willing to share and interact as well as be enthusiastic about the role they could play in fighting the disease.
Last updated: January 12, 2015