4 December 2012

Africa: The Fight Against Aids - 'No Time to 'Rest On Our Laurels'


Stephen Lewis, chair of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which helps fight HIV/AIDS, says the human face of the disease needs to be restored and that it is no time for "resting on our laurels".

In an interview with AllAfrica's Bunmi Oloruntoba after the Aids2012 conference in Washington, D.C. in late July, Lewis spoke about the future of fighting HIV/AIDS. Since 2003, his organization has funded over 700 initiatives in the 15 African countries hardest hit by the pandemic by working with community organizations to support to women, orphaned children, grandmothers and people living with the disease.

What are the key issues that concern you about HIV/AIDS prevention?

There is too much self-congratulation about what we have achieved, and not enough recognition of how much more we have to achieve. There are 33 or 34 million people that are going to require treatment in the immediate future. There are 2.5 million children or more between the ages of five and 16 that are receiving no treatment at all. While there is a lot of public relations around the elimination of pediatric AIDS by 2015, there isn't the kind of determined leadership from United Nations agencies which would make it happen in the countries where it is desperately important, like Nigeria, where you have 27 percent of the needs.

So I am a little concerned that the rhetorical blandishments about human rights for men who have sex with men (MSM), and sex work, and injecting drug use and prison populations never gets down to the serious detail on the ground. The rhetoric always flagellates or criticizes countries in the most generalized way but doesn't go to Uganda and say to President Yoweri Museveni, "You are going to be internationally condemned at every turn unless you get rid of that legislation" that criminalizes homosexuality. Nobody ever goes after him from the UN system where the power lies. There has to be an international effort.

And on all of these issues, it's important to give the world the sense that not only is the pandemic not over, but we haven't yet crossed the threshold. We don't have a vaccine. We don't yet have a microbicide. They are talking of a cure in some abstract way, but that's decades and decades off.

So, we're just resting on our laurels.

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