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UPDATED: 15:51, July 04, 2005
Experts seek efforts from fundamentalism on AIDS prevention
Religious fundamentalism that rejects condom use and scientific treatment of people with HIV/ AIDS needs to make actual efforts instead of moral teachings in battling the disease, experts urged during an international conference on AIDS being held from Friday to Tuesday in Kobe, west Japan.
"There is a new AIDS order emerging in the world today. It is resulting in the dilution of science and scientific methods of treating AIDS and the diminution of human rights of those who are HIV positive," said Anand Grover, an Indian lawyer who works with patients in that country.
He was speaking at one of the symposiums in Kobe for the 7th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific.
"This new order puts a gag on information and services governments provide, like condoms and needles, stifles human rights concerns, and blocks public health measures to change behavior while preaching that you shouldn't have sex or do drugs," Grover said.
It encourages stiff penalties and punishments and propagates antiquated morals to control behavior, he said, citing both the United States and India as examples of countries where such an order is most visibly emerging.
"We hear lost of talks on morality, but people are forgetting that AIDS is a health problem that affects all levels of society. But there is no room for ideology in developing AIDS policies," said Nafis Sadik, a Pakistani woman who is a special adviser to the UN Secretary General and special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific.
In the United States, the past several years have seen much funding for AIDS prevention go to groups with a fundamentalist Christian agenda that emphasizes abstaining from homosexual or drug activities, Grover said, adding that some other countries in Asia have also faced religious pressure to curb the availability of condoms and to stop assistance policies for those affected by epidemic.
Yet in Iran, which is under Muslim law, the courts have issued rulings over the past few years that make it easier to offer treatment to people who contracted HIV/AIDS through injecting drug use, according to Grover.
In 2001, Iran publicly offered needles for drug users, as well as the use of a drug called methadone, which can help slow the spread of the HIV. "A local court in that country ruled in early 2005 that the use of the drug, although forbidden under Muslim law, may be permitted if it saves lives," he said.
Constance Carrino, director of the office of HIV/AIDS at USAID Group, said it has been the policy of the US government since 2003 to focus on prevention techniques.
Speaking to audience clearly hostile to US policy on HIV/AIDS, Carrino said the United States has provided information to people in 15 countries around the world on the risks of engaging in unsafe sex and to drug users on the risks of sharing needles.