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AIDS meeting begins in Kathmandu


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KATHMANDU, Nepal (CNN) -- Representatives from eight South Asia nations have met in Kathmandu for the start of a U.N.-sponsored inter-faith conference on the region's growing AIDS epidemic.

More than 140 religious and faith-based representatives from the countries are participating in the three-day meeting, which is made up of members of the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Baha'i communities.

"They have heard a call for their greater involvement in the fight against the growing epidemic of HIV and AIDS in the region," said Sadig Rasheed with the UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA), which organized the three-day South Asia Inter-Faith Consultation on Children, Young People and HIV/AIDS.

"In 1992, only 0.5 percent of drug users and sex workers were affected by HIV/AIDS, but now in about a decade, this number has doubled making up 1 percent of the total population of South Asia," Rasheed said at a pre-conference press briefing.

Rasheed stressed the need of getting the upper hand in the epidemic.

"Altogether, 5 million people are living in South Asia with HIV/AIDS and the trend is firmly upward," he said.

Comparing it to war, Rasheed urged the cooperation of all religious leaders and the leaders of the nations.

"A new wave of HIV epidemic is threatening China, India, Indonesia and Russia mainly due to transmission through injection of drugs and unsafe sex," he said.

"We know that the virus should have been controllable. But we also know of success stories of controlling and averting the trend of the disease such as in Uganda and in Thailand which have demonstrated that the spread of virus can be halted," according to Rasheed.

Recommendations from the meeting will be taken to the South Asian Association for Regional cooperation (SAARC) in Islamabad the first week of January.

-- Journalist Akhilesh Upadhyay in Kathmandu contributed to this report


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