UN agencies starts Aids meeting in Africa

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa on Thursday called for the fight against Aids to be stepped up as he opened a meeting between Southern African ministers and United Nations agencies involved in battling the pandemic.

“It is necessary to wage the battle,” Mwanawasa declared as he opened the conference in Livingstone, on the Victoria Falls, saying his government is committed to providing “all the political will that is necessary”.

He pointed out that 70% of people in Southern Africa live below the poverty line, making it difficult for governments to raise funds to fight the disease, which has hit their region harder than anywhere else in the world.

In many countries in the region, about one-third of adults are HIV-positive, he noted.

Mwanawasa pointed out that in Zambia, more than 50% of hospital beds are taken up by Aids patients, and that about 40% of teachers are infected.

The conference is a “unique opportunity” to speed up the fight against the disease, he said.

Unesco Director General Koichiro Matsuura, the current chairperson of the UN Aids body UNAids, said the aim of the meeting, attended by health, education and finance ministers from Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, is “to find better ways of working together”.

Peter Piot, the executive director of UNAids, declared that “we are definitely in the middle of a political momentum around the world” to step up the campaign.

That included a “momentum of hope” generated by cheap access to anti-retroviral drugs and “financial momentum” resulting from money being supplied by major donors, he said.—Sapa-AFP


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