- Countries across southern Africa are showing they have the determination necessary to win the battle against the HIV/AIDS pandemic, according to the UN's AIDS envoy. In particular Uganda and Lesotho were praised for a "remarkable" dedication to remove all possible obstacles to the fight against the disease.
Stephen Lewis, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, today praised efforts to fights AIDS in Lesotho and Uganda after he had returned to New York from a visit to the two countries. Mr Lewis said he "was heartened" by what he had observed.
Referring to the visit, Mr Lewis highlighted Lesotho, where 30 percent of its citizens are estimated to be HIV-positive - the most of any least developed country in the world - for its "remarkably talented and gifted cabinet," which he said had brought "all the apparatus of response" together to combat AIDS.
In Uganda, where there is a prevalence rate of about 4 percent, Mr Lewis praised the Kampala government and anti-AIDS organisations for "a single-minded determination to carry it off."
But the UN envoy said both countries still face enormous practical hurdles to beating back HIV/AIDS, which the UN estimates killed 2.2 million people in sub-Saharan Africa last year.
Mr Lewis said Lesotho has a notorious industrial complex where as many as 54,000 female garment workers toil in "sweatshop" conditions for little pay, forcing some of them to seek what is called "transactional sex" to supplement their incomes and increasing the chance that sexual diseases such as AIDS will be transferred.
In northern Uganda, the brutal conflict waged by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) against the government had included the abduction of thousands of children as soldiers or sexual slaves for the rebel group's commanders.
As much as 90 percent of the population in northern Uganda is displaced from their homes, Mr Lewis noted, adding that this has also led to the phenomenon of "night commuters," where up to 40,000 children walk several kilometres every evening to makeshift shelters to avoid LRA attacks.
Apart from Lesotho and Uganda, Mr Lewis today also stated his praise for anti-AIDS engagement in every Southern and East African nation. "Every government [in the region] is engaged in this. Some of them are slow to embrace treatment rationale, as in South Africa; some of them are overwhelmed by putting everything in place, as seems to be the case in Tanzania," he said.
There was an almost universal reflex, he said - for example, in Botswana, Rwanda, Zambia, Malawi, Kenya and Namibia - "to demolish the obstacles and get pervasive treatment underway." However, Mr Lewis added, "what is happening now should have happened and could have happened several years ago," and he said funding in global anti-AIDS initiatives still lagged behind what was required.
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