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Cablegate: Moroccan Imams to Receive Education in Sexually Transmitted

VZCZCXRO6560
RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK
DE RUEHRB #1377 2011629
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 201629Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY RABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4285
INFO RUEHCL/AMCONSUL CASABLANCA 1912
RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 3024
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 4295
RUEHNK/AMEMBASSY NOUAKCHOTT 3241

UNCLAS RABAT 001377

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KHIV KISL PHUM PGOV MO
SUBJECT: MOROCCAN IMAMS TO RECEIVE EDUCATION IN SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED
DISEASES


1. Summary: Moroccan Imams will begin receiving awareness training
as part of the GOM's fight against HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted
diseases (STDs) beginning in Sept 2006. The voluntary training
represents a joint initiative by the Ministries of Islamic Affairs
(MIA) and Health (MOH), and consists of classes covering human
anatomy and the means of HIV transmission. It will not include
discussion on the use of condoms. The training will be conducted by
a Moroccan NGO, the Moroccan League Against Sexually Transmitted
Diseases (LMLMST), and is part of the GOM's efforts to aggressively
combat the spread of HIV while respecting traditional Muslim values.
The involvement of religious leaders builds upon the 2004 Cairo
Declaration calling for religious institutions to provide economic
and spiritual support to people infected with HIV. End Summary.

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Imam Training Part of Broad Government Campaign
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2. As reported in the French language weekly, Le Journal
Hebdomadaire, a Moroccan NGO (LMLMST) is slated to begin an
educational initiative in September 2006 for Imams and Morchidates
(women religious educators in mosques). The training will cover the
transmission of the HIV virus with the intent of sensitizing one of
the most important forces in Moroccan social and religious life to
the realities of HIV/AIDS. The plan is for the Imams and
Morchidates, whose participation is voluntarily, to receive basic
HIV and STD training in order to increase awareness and to change
traditional Muslim perceptions related to STDs. In Morocco, as well
as other Arab countries, many issues connected with the HIV epidemic
and sexuality in general have been taboo, and STDs have often been
perceived as a punishment from God.

3. Professor Mohamed Belkebir, a sociologist in charge of this
program for LMLMST, told Econ FSN the program is intended as the
first-step in providing the religious community with factual
information concerning prevention, transmission, and consequences of
STDs. He stressed that at this stage the role of condoms will not
be included. The initiative builds upon the 2004 UNDP Cairo
Declaration, signed by religious leaders from 19 Arab countries,
which declared that people with HIV/AIDS should receive economic,
psychological, and spiritual support from religious institutions.

4. In June 2006, the GOM highlighted its HIV/AIDS prevention and
treatment efforts through a high profile appearance of Princess
Lalla Salma, and Minister of Health Mohammed Cheikh Biadillah at the
UN AIDS conference in New York. At the conference, Biadillah
emphasized that the implementation of any strategy against the
spread of HIV/AIDS required a partnership between civil society and
the government, as well as durable funding. Good to his word, the
Imam training initiative represents a government-civil partnership
among the MOH, the MIA, and LMLMST, with funding provided by the
Global Fund, an international NGO combating AIDS.

--------------------------------------------
Growing Infection Rate In Women Raises Alarm
--------------------------------------------

5. The GOM seeks to avoid a potential health crisis in Morocco.
While the HIV prevalence rate is below 0.15 percent (well under the
9 percent adult prevalence rate for much of Africa), Morocco has a
high rate of STDs and a high influx of refugees, two major risk
factors for the spread of HIV. In addition, observers point to a
sharp increase (over 30 percent in the past 5 years) in infection
rate among women, both inside and outside of marriage.

6. Because of low literacy rates in Morocco and the widespread
taboos about discussing sex and sexuality in public, AIDS educators
are seeking to take advantage of the Imams' moral authority.
However, a recent survey released by the MIA and the MOH revealed
that of 360 surveyed Imams, the majority were either unaware or
ignored the medical aspects, causes, and effects of HIV infection.
On the positive side, the majority of those surveyed expressed
enthusiasm and interest in participating in the program.

7. Comment. The inclusion of Islamic leaders in the fight against
HIV/AIDS is a significant initiative by the GOM and serves as
another example of Morocco's moderate Muslim views. Throughout much
of the Arab world, HIV is still considered a curse from God and
those infected suffer from alienation and stigmatization. The
results of the 360 Imams surveyed underscore the need for this
program, and highlight the general state of HIV and STD
misunderstanding throughout much of the region. However, failure to
address the role of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted
diseases appears to be a serious shortcoming of this otherwise
positive initiative. End Comment.

RILEY

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