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Senior Church Leaders in Lesotho Pledge to Fight AIDS

Fourteen of the most renowned church leaders in Lesotho have signed a declaration pledging to fight against HIV/AIDS which is ravaging the country, the UN Action Against AIDS (UNAIDS) said in a statement from Maseru on Wednesday.

"The tragic toll of the AIDS epidemic, brings compelling urgency to the call for a renewed commitment by religious leaders to achieve Universal Access for all to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support as well as impact mitigation," a spokesman for the clerics, Reverend Mokhakhlane, said in the statement.

The clerics signed the declaration in the presence of King Letsie III and Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, the statement said.

In the declaration, the church leaders pledged to promote dignity, equality and rights of all people, especially those living with HIV, to discuss openly about HIV-AIDS and prevention and to reject negative statements that AIDS is a form of 'divine' punishment'.

"This is the first time that the ecumenical society has spoken out with one powerful voice, and we are strategically placed to reach people from all walks of life and be catalysts for positive and lasting action" said Reverend Daniel Rantle from the Methodist Church of Africa.

Lesotho has one of the highest HIV prevalence in the world and more than 23 percent of the population aged between 15 and 49 years are HIV positive, according to the statement.

According to the National AIDS Commission (NAC) and UNAIDS, about 29,000 new infections are estimated in 2007, that is 80 per day, bringing the number of people living with HIV to a total of more than 270,000, of which more than 16,000 are children aged below 14 years.

More than 55 percent of 180,000 children have been orphaned by AIDS, the statement said.

The NAC and the UN have been collaborating closely with religious leaders and faith-based organisations to respond to the HIV epidemic, it s
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