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You are here : 3-RX.com > Home > AIDS/HIV -

African ex-leaders to press politicians over AIDS

AIDS/HIVAug 07, 08

Former leaders of African countries ravaged by AIDS are launching a regional campaign to put pressure on politicians who they say have not done enough to combat the virus.

Former presidents of Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia and other well-known figures, including South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, are demanding more government action and public education campaigns to prevent new infections in countries where up to one in four people have AIDS.

“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,” former Botswanan President Festus Mogae told Reuters in an interview.

“Some countries appeared to ignore the problem. South Africa could have done more and they haven’t,” he said at an international conference on AIDS in Mexico.

Botswana, where 23 percent of the population has AIDS, has been cited as a rare success. It was the first African country to give out free life-prolonging drugs and to promote widespread testing.

Mogae, who stepped down as leader in April, said he would set up a small technical office in his country to develop AIDS prevention programs that will be funded by the World Bank, the United States and other foundations.


South Africa is the country with the largest number of infections in the world, according to the United Nations. About 500,000 people are infected there each year and around 1,000 die every day from AIDS-related illnesses.

But South African officials, including President Thabo Mbeki, have infuriated AIDS activists by questioning accepted science on the virus and arguing it is the result of poverty, chronic disease and malnutrition.

South Africa’s health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, has advocated garlic and beetroot instead of anti-retroviral drugs to fight AIDS.

“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,” said Edwin Cameron, a prominent South African judge infected with AIDS who is supporting the initiative.

He said the group could pressure other leaders lagging behind.

During Mogae’s nearly 10 years in power, Botswana reduced its mother-to-child AIDS transmission rate from 40 percent to 4 percent and some 100,000 people of the close to 300,000 with AIDS are receiving treatment, he said.

“What really worries me is new infections, we have set for ourselves a target of no new infections by 2016,” Mogae said, although he admitted the goal would be tough to meet.

Despite government education campaigns in Botswana, misconceptions persist about the disease, the United Nations said in its latest report on AIDS.

Nearly a third of people surveyed in 2004 claimed that HIV can be acquired by supernatural means and more than half said it can be passed by mosquitoes.

By Mica Rosenberg

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