Dakar, Senegal (PANA) - The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is to leverage the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations starting on Saturday to pep up the fight against HIV/AIDS on the continent.
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe said in a statement obtained by PANA here Friday that the 16-nation tournament, to be hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea 21 Jan-12 Feb., ''provides an exceptional opportunity to mobilize and re-energize Africans against AIDS as millions tune in and turn up to support their teams''.
Sidibe added: ''As the 16 nations participating in the tournament prepare to make their supporters proud, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is supporting an innovative AIDS awareness campaign by the Foundation of the First Lady of Gabon, Madame Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, which is a true example of her leadership and commitment to the AIDS response.
''The campaign, “CAN SANS SIDA” (CAN without AIDS), will use the enormous popularity and outreach that football has across Africa to spread the word that zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths is possible in Africa, and that by protecting a new generation from HIV infection, Africa can and will change the course of the global epidemic.''
Sidibe said Africa had been at the epicentre of the epidemic since it was first discovered on the continent over 30 years ago, and Africans have been at the heart of the response.
''In recent years, the scale up of efforts across the whole of Africa have produced astonishing results. In every corner of Africa today babies are being born without HIV, even though their mothers are living with the virus. In Botswana, in Kenya, in Gabon and in Equatorial Guinea, families are now able to protect their children from HIV.
''This is an incredible achievement and one which was unthinkable just 15 years ago,'' he said.
According to the UNAIDS boss, the total number of new HIV infections dropped by more than 26% in Africa since the peak in 1997, and AIDS-related deaths are steadily decreasing as access to lifesaving medicines expands across the continent.
He said that for the first time in the history of AIDS, Africa has the best chance now to protect women, men and children everywhere from new HIV infections and to keep people living with HIV alive, adding that this must now be the ultimate goal for Africa.
''It’s an exciting moment to seize. New discoveries and new approaches are offering the opportunity to dramatically change the course of the epidemic. We know we can use anti-retroviral medicines to prevent as well as treat AIDS––these are the same medicines that have been keeping people living with AIDS alive for more than a decade––in poor countries as well as rich ones.
''For the continent most affected by the epidemic, I believe Africa and its leaders can take charge of the response and find ways to secure the resources needed to make zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero-AIDS related deaths a reality in every country. Africa has to look for and seize every opportunity to do so,'' Sidibe added.
Mr Sidibé, a Malian, has been the Executive Director of UNAIDS, and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, since 1 January 2009.
An outspoken advocate with a people-centred approach, he has called for the elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015.
- Pan African News Agency
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