Former African Leaders Launch Regional Campaign To Pressure Politicians on HIV/AIDS
Former leaders of Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, as well as other well-known African figures, launched an initiative Tuesday at the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City to put pressure on politicians whom they believe have not done enough to fight HIV/AIDS, Reuters reports (Rosenberg, Reuters, 8/6). The campaign is called "Champions for an HIV-Free Generation." Its founding members include former Botswanan President Festus Mogae; Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique; former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda; South African Archbishop and Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu; and Miriam Were, head of the Kenyan National AIDS Control Council (Ingham, AFP/Khaleej Times, 8/6). The initiative calls for more government actions and public education campaigns to prevent new HIV cases in countries where up to one in four people are living with HIV/AIDS (Reuters, 8/6). Mogae also said the campaign's members would aim to launch "a dialogue" with governments about changing behavior, unsafe sex, stigma and discrimination against women. He added that the campaign would be open to prominent leaders all over Africa, as well as people "from all walks of life" (AFP/Khaleej Times, 8/6).
Mogae said, "The fact that we are prominent individuals from all parts of Africa, if we strongly disagree with someone, I think we can mobilize shame against that person," adding, "Some countries appeared to ignore the problem" (Reuters, 8/6). He added that the initiative hopes to reach a consensus with current political leaders, "but even if it doesn't emerge, we will advocate things we believe (in)" (AFP/Khaleej Times, 8/6). Mogae also said he would set up a small technical office in Botswana to develop HIV/AIDS prevention programs that will be funded by the World Bank, the U.S. and other organizations.
Were said, "Not everyone might be comfortable with it, but we need to talk about HIV, about stigma, about our behavior, because silence and inaction are fatal."
Stephen Lewis, a former UN special envoy for AIDS in Africa, said, "This will be interesting. Former presidents can wield a lot of influence" (AFP/Khaleej Times, 8/6).
Edwin Cameron, a prominent South African HIV-positive judge who is supporting the initiative, said, "What we have lacked is sufficient visibility of leadership. Just as my own country was mired in ghastly nightmare of President Mbeki's AIDS denialism, President Mogae in Botswana was rolling out very scientific responses."
Reuters reports that during Mogae's 10 years as president, Botswana reduced mother-to-child HIV transmission from 40% to 4%. In addition, of the 300,000 people in the country living with HIV/AIDS, about 100,000 are receiving antiretrovirals. The United Nations said that despite government education campaigns in the country, misconceptions about the disease remain. Nearly one-third of people surveyed in 2004 said they thought HIV can be acquired through supernatural means, and more than half said it can be transmitted through mosquitoes (Reuters, 8/6).
Kaisernetwork.org is the official webcaster of the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. Click here to sign up for your Daily Update e-mail during the conference. A webcast of the opening session of the conference, featuring Mogae, is available online. In addition, an interview with Mogae is available online.