Leading the Aids battle

Nosimilo Ndlovu interviewed Michel Sidibé, the new executive director of UNAids, the coordinating body of the United National in the global fight against HIV and AIDS.

What is the relevance of the UNAids Joint Programme on Aids?
To be the voice of the voiceless, to stand by the people affected and infected by HIV, and to advocate for additional resources.

What new ideas do you bring for Africa, particularly South Africa, in the fight against HIV/Aids?
My shift will be to not deal with HIV/Aids in isolation; I want it to become part of a broader response. I want the fight against Aids to become an opportunity to mobilise the whole civil society movement; to recapture primary healthcare values by improving the service delivery within the community environment. It will also be an opportunity to deal with human rights and gender issues. I see the fight against Aids as an opportunity to really quicken the pace towards Millennium Developmental Goals. I want to use the $14-billion invested in Aids every year to produce more health and development outcomes.

What will be your priorities going forward?
No one with HIV dies from TB. It is possible to achieve this.
Universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. I want to continue to prioritise prevention efforts by making paediatric Aids history and giving young people skills to protect themselves from HIV and violence. Also to promote the human rights of people living with and affected by HIV by ending laws that impede delivery and use of Aids related services.

How do you feel South Africa is progressing in dealing with HIV/Aids?
South Africa has shown that we can mobilise masses and we can create common goals. I am encouraged by the community response together with government, civil society and key stakeholders in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, who have lead the way towards universal access in South Africa. Together they are meeting the demand for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

Do you think South Africa can scale up its treatment programme?
I feel the South African government needs to strengthen public accountability in the allocation and use of provincial budgets. There needs to be a better understanding of how budgets are allocated and used and there needs to be accountability for the results. I think its time for the private sector to also come to the party

What are some of the issues you have been looking at while you were here meeting with South African leaders?
Improving delivery cost and the issue of sustainability. We have 700 000 people on treatment today. How we can really continue to sustain access of treatment and increase it knowing that the goal is to have 80% of people on treatment by 2011. That would be around 1,5-million people on treatment.

South Africa starts patients on treatment when their CD4 count reaches 200 while other countries start at 350. Shouldn’t UNAids intervene and push to have global standards that all countries should follow?
We are in discussions with the World Health Oragnisation (WHO) on that issue. Countries have their own decisions based on their resources, but we are really advocating strongly to ensure that governments adopt global norms.

Do you see the world making progress in the fight against HIV/Aids in the near future?
I am an ‘incorrigible optimist” — where people see darkness I see light. Remember 20 years ago? No one was accepting or talking about Aids. If you take Indonesia, five years ago no one would talk about a needle and syringe exchange programme for drug users. Today they are setting goals of getting 70% of HIV positive people on treatment by 2010. China was the same. Today there are more than 1 000 sites distributing HIV resources and services. Botswana, just a few years ago, was nowhere and today we are talking about almost 80% of people on treatment and universal access to mother to child prevention. You take the same thing in western Africa; we have a decline in new infections amongst young people. So I am convinced that, if we have the same social revolution I saw in Khayalisha, where people from all parts of society came together and confronted the epidemic, we will be able to end this epidemic on this continent. I am very positive that will happen only if the leaders of the continent consider that it is one of the major challenges for the generation of today.

What is the situation with global funding for HIV/Aids initiatives given the world’s economic decline?
Let us be very clear: global funds should be fully funded. I think the financial crisis is one thing, but we need to adjust ourselves with the human face. We cannot let the economic crisis paralyze us. Stimulus packages and economic adjustments should be made with a human face in mind.

Michel Sidibé is a citizen of Mali where he was born in 1952. He is fluent in English and French as well as several African languages. He is married and has four children.

Sidibé began his career in global health and development when he became concerned about the health and welfare of the nomadic Tuareg people in the Timbuktu region of his native country. These efforts evolved into a role as country director for the international development federation Terre des Hommes.

In 1987 Sidibé joined Unicef and over the next 14 years oversaw programmes across 10 Francophone countries in Africa.

He became the Director of Country and Regional support department for UNAIDS in 2001. In 2007, Sidibé was appointed as UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director of Programmes and Assistant Secretary- General of the United Nations. In this capacity, he led UNAIDS’s contributions to regional and
country responses as well as UNAIDS’s efforts in global policies, evidence, and monitoring and evaluation.

Sidibé earned two post-Master’s diplomas in Social Planning and Demography as well as in Development and Political Economy from the University of Clermont. He also holds a Master’s degree in economics. In 2007 Mr Sidibé was awarded an honorary professorship at Stellenbosch
University of South Africa.

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Nosimilo Ndlovu
Guest Author

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