Lesotho + 3 more

Southern Africa: Joint effort can turn pandemic around - Lewis

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JOHANNESBURG, 8 January (PLUSNEWS) - The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa could be turned around, despite the devastating toll on human lives, UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis, said on Tuesday.
Speaking at a press briefing to report on his recent trip to Southern Africa, Lewis noted that defeating the disease would require a combination of political will and resources. "The political will is increasingly there; the money is not," he said.

A key element that had emerged from his visit to Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Malawi and Zambia was the important role of the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Global Fund was seen as the best way of financing the struggle against the pandemic, but it would soon face its "moment of truth", as a result of inadequate funding, Lewis warned.

In light of the region's current food shortages, hunger and HIV/AIDS had come together in a "brew of horror". In Malawi, 50 percent of poor households were affected by chronic illness due to HIV/AIDS. Illness made it difficult for farmers to grow crops and feed their families. The collapse of the agricultural sector was a sign of worse to come, he noted.

The increasing levels of sexual abuse of children was also a problem, as it made them even more vulnerable to the disease. According to Lewis, dealing with the "astronomic" number of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS was a relatively "new phenomenon" for which the world had no solution.

Despite women being the worst affected group, there was little effort at empowering them and making them equal in society. And there was "no effort whatsoever" to relieve their burden of caring for the sick and orphaned children.

In every country he visited the issue of anti-AIDS drugs came up, as people living with HIV/AIDS were becoming increasingly frustrated. "There is a crescendo of rage and desperation which the governments will ignore at their peril," he warned.

But there were signs of determination and hope in all of the four countries. "Whether they can be harnessed in the name of social change will be known in the year 2003," he said.

[ENDS]

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