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AIDS Conference Begins in Nairobi - 2002-06-10

More than 120 senior African religious leaders are meeting in Nairobi, Kenya to begin a continent-wide campaign against AIDS, arguing that the key to combating the disease may lie in abstinence.

The spiritual leaders from across Africa are meeting for three days to discuss ways they can contribute to the fight against AIDS.

The meeting - the first of its kind by religious leaders - shows that Africa's clergy is taking an increasingly active role in confronting the killer disease.

Carol Bellamy, the director of the United Nations children's fund UNICEF told the meeting that although many African governments have started educating their people about AIDS, another obstacle needs to be overcome - what she described as a wall of silence that prevents adults from talking frankly with children about AIDS. "It exists because of our reluctance and hesitation to educate our young about sexuality and the dangers of growing up," she said. "And our failure to dispel the stigma and counter the discrimination around it."

Ms. Bellamy urged Africa's religious leaders to break this wall of silence. "You are the ones who have trusted personal relationships and the confidence of the people you serve," she said. "You can spread the word about what it takes to confront and beat this terrible disease through your mosques, through your temples, through your churches, through your lay people, your women's groups and your youth organizations."

Ms. Bellamy told the religious leaders that all young people need to learn the ABC of protection against AIDS. A is for abstinence, B is be faithful and C is proper condom use.