Feature story

African leaders call for accelerated response to AIDS in Zambia

26 October 2010

Mr Festus Mogae, former President of Botswana (centre); Professor Miriam Were, former Chairperson of the Kenya National AIDS Control Council (left); and Hon A. K. Mwanamwambwa, Speaker of Zambian National Assembly (right). Credit: UN/Sirak Gebrehiwot

In a recent mission to Zambia the Champions for an HIV-Free Generation, an organization of African leaders which includes former presidents and other influential personalities, met with top government officials to help push Zambia’s AIDS response forward. Zambian President Rupiah Banda unveiled a new National AIDS Strategy in the presence of the Champions that aims to increase access to antiretroviral treatment and reduce HIV infections in Zambia by 50% by the year 2015.

Zambia has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world. According to the latest UNAIDS estimates, 15.2% of the adult population is living with HIV and more than 80,000 adults are newly infected with HIV annually. For every two people who start antiretroviral therapy, an estimated five more become newly infected with the virus.

Led by Mr Festus G. Mogae, former president of Botswana, the delegation of Champions met with government authorities, traditional leaders, civil society representatives, people living with HIV and development partners. Mr Mogae inspired local leaders to strive for virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV through the example of Botswana, where rates of infants born to HIV-positive mothers have been reduced from 20% in 2003 to below 4% in 2007.

Culture is important, but if your culture or traditions are killing you, you must think about change

Professor Miriam Were

While in Zambia, the Champions underscored the importance of preventing new HIV infections through proven interventions, including male circumcision and correct and consistent condom use. Gender-based violence and the heavy burden placed on women by HIV were also addressed head on. 

“Culture is important, but if your culture or traditions are killing you, you must think about change,” said Professor Miriam Were, a member of the Champions delegation and former Chairperson of Kenya’s National AIDS Control Council.

The Champions held frank discussions on the financial sustainability of the HIV response in the region and the need to move quickly to be effective. “A stick that is far away cannot kill a snake, and if you tap it on the tail and wait for your neighbour to hit it on the head, you will find yourself in trouble,” said Champions delegate Dr. Speciosa Wandira, former Vice-President of Uganda.