Southern African Development Community Should Do More To Fight HIV/AIDS, Official Says
Parliamentarians across the Southern African Development Community should do more to address HIV/AIDS in the region, Kasuko Mutukwa, SADC Parliamentary Forum secretary-general, said recently at a media briefing in Zambia's capital of Lusaka, the Inter Press Service reports. Mutukwa said, "Considering SADC is at the epicenter of the HIV pandemic, not enough is being done to address it. HIV has a very negative impact on (the region's) development." SADC's 4,000 parliamentarians are responsible for guaranteeing that governments in the region consider HIV/AIDS issues, according to the Inter Press Service. "Elections can come and go in our countries, but issues of HIV are hardly discussed," Mutukwa said, adding, "If all parliamentarians rose to the occasion, they could make a major impact on combating the pandemic." He called for the creation of HIV/AIDS desks within each parliament in the region to push for HIV-specific legislation and programs.
Although SADC countries have committed themselves to several international goals regarding HIV, "there has been little progress in meeting them," the Inter Press Service reports. Advocates say that although the intentions to achieve such goals exist, little has been done to implement strategies to achieve those goals and that setting targets is not enough. A 2008 UNAIDS study reports that more than half of all Southern and Eastern African countries have planned HIV prevention strategies but that about 20% are being implemented. Boemo Sekgoma, SADC HIV/AIDS policy adviser, said, "This indicates a huge gap in prevention." Michael Kelly, a Zambian AIDS advocate, said, "We don't want to see promises, but promises fulfilled."
According to Sekgoma, governments and parliaments should focus on "capacity building, analysis, finding funding gaps and better budgeting." In addition, more resources are needed to focus on issues such as multiple partnerships, inconsistent condom use and low levels of male circumcision. Kelly said more focus needs to be placed on reaching all eight of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, not just those directly related to HIV/AIDS. Kelly said, "Politicians should realize that if they improve access to primary education, our children will be better educated and therefore less likely to be infected with HIV." Kelly noted that reducing poverty and hunger would also benefit people living with HIV/AIDS by providing them with better nutrition.
According to Kelly, rather than consult with their constituents, some parliaments have begun to over-legislate HIV by criminalizing transmission of the virus. Kelly said such laws can be "self-defeating" and increase HIV prevalence and discourage testing. Kelly said, "Bad laws can increase the spread of the virus," adding that instead of "over-legislating, parliamentarians should ensure that more resources are invested in HIV prevention" (Palitza, Inter Press Service, 3/23).