Muslims have too often turned a blind eye to the pandemic of HIV/AIDS under the guise that the disease cannot affect them. So says Nuraan Osman from the Muslim Aids Programme, as South Africa marks World AIDS Day on December 1st. While the fight against the disease has been augmented, Muslims have generally been lagging behind in terms of AIDS awareness and prevention.
Osman, who is also the director of the IHATA Shelter for Abused Women and Children, says that while there are many Muslim organisations and activists leading the cause, there are also those that speak out against HIV/AIDS as a disease of shame, sin and promiscuity.
“Often times at the shelter where I work women come in and are too ashamed to tell us that they are HIV positive, because of the stigma and discrimination,” she states.
Statistics suggest that close to 80% of female sufferers have been infected in monogamous marriages by their partners. However as a result of likely shaming from their families, these cases often go under the radar.
Osman says such issues need to be openly addressed by going into communities and talking about it at schools and amongst the general public.
“Part of the work the Muslim Aids Programme does, in partnership with the IHATA Shelter is we talk about it. The programme largely focuses on abstinence for young people.
“One of the smallest efforts we can make, or biggest in terms of its impact is to talk to our young girls and boys openly and honestly about what can happen, and what they should and should not be doing,” she suggests.
She also notes that the Muslim AIDS Programme also engages with local Ulema in order to get them to speak factualy about the disease, as opposed to brandishing it as a mere disease of shame.
“HIV infection is not a death sentence. The treatments these days are so advanced that people are getting better, that mothers with HIV are not necessarily giving birth to children who are HIV positive,” she explains.
The Muslim AIDS Programme can be contact at 011 373 8080. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)