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Ethiopian religions reach out to fight Aids

ADDIS ABABA – The leaders of Ethiopia’s three main religions will launch a national campaign to create awareness about HIV and Aids and attempt to dispel the stigma attached to those who are infected with the deadly disease.

The week-long campaign, which is being launched by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Islamic Affairs Supreme Council and the Ethiopian Evangelical Church, will begin when Muslims attend Friday prayers, the leaders told reporters late on Wednesday.

“It is obligatory for very Muslim to care and support our brothers and sisters infected by the virus and to avoid the stigma and discrimination of people living with the virus,” said Sheik Abdurahiman Hussein, chairperson of the Islamic Affairs Supreme Council.

Abuna Paulos, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the country’s largest religion, said activities will be organised nationwide and leaflets and posters distributed.

He said the main message of the campaign would be the need for behavioural change and for people to show “mercy, concern and care for those living with the virus”.

Negatu Mereke, an official with the government’s HIV and Aids prevention office, said 2,2 million Ethiopians are infected with HIV, the virus that causes Aids. Only South Africa, Nigeria and India have a larger percentage of their population infected with the disease, Negatu said.

Except for a few adverts on state-run television and radio, the government has done little to create awareness about the disease.

Bjron Ljungqvist, the United Nations Children’s Fund’s representative in Ethiopia, said it was critical that Ethiopians gained a better understanding of the disease.

“Most Ethiopians have heard of HIV and Aids, but there are many misconceptions and safe behaviours are not practiced. Stigma and discrimination is widespread and damaging… care and support,” he said.

More than 80 percent of the impoverished country’s population are poorly eductated subsistance farmers.

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