/ 30 November 2007

We can defeat Aids, says Tutu

Statistics that indicated HIV/Aids numbers were lower than previously thought was cold comfort, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said on Friday.

Speaking in Pretoria a day before World Aids Day, Tutu said that while the country might say things had improved, it was unacceptable that 600 people died of Aids everyday in South Africa.

He said the country was facing a monumental crisis, which was exacerbated when leaders wasted time by discussing what caused HIV/Aids.

”We defeated apartheid; this is a scourge we can also defeat,” he said.

The Archbishop urged government leaders to ”get cracking” on fighting the pandemic.

”Please, let us all be galvanised and fight the scourge,” said Tutu, adding that the necessary drugs needed to be rolled out.

The government was to be commended for launching the South African National Aids Council, Tutu said.

However, all plans that the government had in place to fight HIV/Aids needed to be implemented in order for them to work.

Tutu said it was unacceptable that churches sometimes turned HIV/Aids sufferers into modern day lepers by not reaching out to them.

”We as churches have an opportunity to tell people that Aids is not God’s punishment for sin. If it was, we should ask ourselves what has a new-born baby who has contracted the disease done?” Tutu said.

The Netherlands’s ambassador to South Africa, Rob de Vos, said politicians had not done well in the fight against HIV and that their silence was deafening.

”But there is hope as some politicians are becoming active in the fight against HIV/Aids,” he said.

Economic damage

Meanwhile, it was reported this week that the World Bank is now focusing on easing the economic damage inflicted by the syndrome in Africa and finding ways of controlling its spread through better prevention, care and treatment.

Its changing role has been forced by billions now available through the Bush administration’s President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, or Pepfar, the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the Gates Foundation.

Global funding for HIV/Aids reached $9-billion in 2007, compared with $1,6-billion available in 2001.

The World Bank’s vice-president for Africa, Obiageli Ezekwesili, said a new five-year action plan for fighting the HIV/Aids pandemic in Africa sought to ratchet up the bank’s role as an adviser to governments and its power to bring together donors to ensure Aids funding is properly used.

In addition, the World Bank would increase its work among high-risk groups such as prostitutes and commercial sex workers or in other areas where donors were absent, such as countries emerging from conflict. ”The landscape has changed since the bank first took the leadership on HIV/Aids in 1999 so we have needed to go back to reflect on our future role,” Ezekwesili told Reuters. — Sapa, Reuters