UNAIDS Executive Director Piot Reflects on AIDS Fight on NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot answered a variety of questions about the AIDS pandemic on NPR's "Fresh Air" yesterday. When asked how he would classify the current stage of the epidemic, Piot responded that "we are only in the beginning" because of continued increases in HIV infections. He added that "we have to look at this [fight] in terms of decades" and called the denial that AIDS exists and the stigma associated with HIV the "two main issues we have to deal with in fighting AIDS." Piot said, "This is not only an issue for some backwards countries, this is an issue for every single country I have been in," including Western nations. Part of the strategy for combatting such problems is to involve religious groups, Piot said, explaining, "We need to have the religious groups on our side, so rather than being confrontational, we're trying to look for common ground and to see where they can contribute and what we can do. ... I'm asking that they not oppose condom promotion, and they also have an increasing role in treatment and care of people with HIV. It's not a rosy picture, but we've made enormous progress." Piot mentioned a recent UNAIDS educational video and booklet on the role of imams in preventing HIV, which used quotes from the Koran, as one example of this strategy. Discussing his own persistence in the AIDS fight, Piot said that he considers himself to be "more of a marathon runner than a sprinter, so I guess we don't burn out as easily, but just take it one step at a time."
A Link to Political Instability
Piot also discussed the connection between political instability and AIDS. He said that while he considers AIDS and bioterrorism to be "fairly unrelated issues," the spread of STDs has historically accompanied violent conflicts. Piot said that the level of HIV in Afghanistan and neighboring countries has "been a very small problem" so far, but that the current regional instability could change that, as could a shift toward increased use of injected -- rather than inhaled -- opium or heroin as prices in Central Asia rise. Piot also touched on Uganda's "effective" methods of reducing HIV infection rates and the need for international bodies to "tal[k] about sex" without using "incomprehensible diplomatic language" to discuss homosexuality, sex education, women's rights and sexuality. The full interview is available online in RealAudio (Gross, "Fresh Air," NPR, 10/24).