Tanzania: Major Awareness Gathering

Arusha — First Lady, Mama Salma Kikwete, is expected to grace a special public requiem mass, to be held in reminiscence of people who died of HIV-Aids, an event which is scheduled to take place in Arusha, at the Sheikh Amri Abeid Stadium on Thursday, May 24.

Organized by the Arusha- based, Global Service Corps in Tanzania, the 'Candle Light Memorial" celebration is being held to reinforce awareness, help reduce the Stigma of HIV/AIDS and encourage people to known their health status by voluntarily getting tested. At the end of the mass, there will be free volunteer counseling and HIV testing for those interested.

A draft event program indicates that people will be marching from the Clock Tower Road Junction as from 8.00am heading to the stadium where each person will be presented with a candle at the entrance, then proceed inside to wait for the guest of honor, Mama Salma Kikwete, who is expected to arrive at the venue at about 9.30am.

Fifteen minutes later, the Master of Ceremony will be introducing both the guest of honor and the entire delegation at the podium, before inviting local religious leaders, Pastors; Imams; Sheikhs and Bishops, for a marathon of prayers and supplications. A moment of silence will also be observed in honor of the departed.

A session of speeches, from various Non-Government and community based organizations, all being related to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, is to follow, after which, the event of lighting the candles will be done, but in deep silence. Afterwards, the first lady, Mama Kikwete will deliver her speech to the public.

It is expected that by 11.30 am, the a major event involving blowing out of the previously lit candles will be taking place. Later, the delegates will be required to sign their names on the flip charts that are to be provided at the venue. After this event, individual persons may choose to consult the available volunteers for either the free counseling or free HIV testing or both.

Official statistics indicate that, the HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate in Tanzania stands at 8.8 percent and by 2003 the country had a total of 1.6 million people living with HIV/Aids, with 160,000 deaths caused by the pandemic, being reported in that same year.

Despite ongoing efforts to try and contain the disease, the spread of the pandemic is showing no signs of slowing. Still, the majority of AIDS cases go unreported and most HIV-positive individuals are unaware of their status. The crisis is particularly severe for the youth as 50 percent of HIV infections occur to those below the age 29.

A macroeconomic simulation model estimated that the impact of AIDS on the growth path of the Tanzanian economy would be to reduce GDP by between 15-25 percent, come the year 2010, and to reduce per capita income by between 0-10 percent.

One study by the International Labor Organization also suggests that the size of the labor force will decrease by 20 percent in 2010 due to the impact of HIV/AIDS pandemic, and there will be a remarkable decrease in production as younger, less experienced workers, are compelled to fill the vacuum left by those who have died.

Meanwhile, Former US President Bill Clinton has unveiled a major deal with two Indian drugs companies to provide cheaper HIV/Aids drugs to developing nations.

The Clinton Foundation's agreement will cut the cost of what are known as second line anti-retrovirals by 25-50%.

Second line drugs are used when cheaper and earlier forms of treatment fail.

The new generic drugs will be made available to people with HIV/Aids in more than 60 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Mr Clinton said seven million people in those countries were in need of treatment for HIV/Aids, but could not afford it.

The former US president said the deal, forged between the Clinton Foundation and Indian companies Cipla Ltd and Matrix Laboratories Ltd, was "groundbreaking".

He said that the pact, made in partnership with international drug purchase facility Unitaid, would sharply reduce the costs of treating people living with HIV/Aids in many developing countries.

He said the two companies had worked with the foundation to reduce production costs, partly through the use of cheaper materials and partly through improved technique.

"Less than a year after the launch of an Aids treatment that is one pill, once a day, which is so much easier for people to take, we're announcing a price of less than a dollar a day for developing countries," Mr Clinton said in a speech at the Clinton Foundation's offices in New York this week.

"This represents a 45% saving over the price now available in Africa, and up to a 67% saving in many middle income countries," Mr Clinton added.

The lower cost, once-daily pill combines the drugs tenofovir, lamivudine and efavirenz.

"This drug represents the best chance that science has to offer and we're announcing this price to help national governments plan for the use of the product in the future," Mr Clinton said.

Mr Clinton was joined by the health ministers of Thailand and Kenya, the chairman of Matrix and France's ambassador to the US as he made the announcement.

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