U.N. Envoy Makes Plea for Increased Funding to Combat AIDS in Africa

Posted February 26, 2003 at 12:02pm

If America can mobilize for the AIDS problem in Africa like it’s now preparing for war with Iraq, the spread of the pandemic abroad could be treated and prevented, according to the U.N. special envoy for HIV and AIDS in Africa.

Stephen Lewis, who recently returned from a trip to southern African countries, spoke Tuesday to Congressional staff in the Rayburn House Office Building about the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

“We know what to do and it isn’t easy,” said Lewis, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, as he acknowledged President Bush’s plan to spend $15 billion over the next five years to help countries across Africa fight the spread of AIDS.

Lewis said the Global Fund, an independent partnership committed to fighting the disease, needs $7 billion for the next fiscal year to combat AIDS, but is nowhere near that amount.

Last year, the Senate passed a bill giving $2.5 billion to the AIDS battle in 2003. But since Bush’s State of the Union address, in which he announced a plan to combat the disease, the White House is aggressively pressuring Senators from both parties to cut this funding with a bill now pending before the Foreign Relations Committee.

The new bill leaves only $2 billion and focuses on government agencies instead of the Global Fund.

And what is happening with the agriculture in Africa is a harbinger of what is to come for the continent in terms of health, education and the military, said Lewis. Because so many people are dying so quickly, fewer and fewer people have been taught how to grow crops.

In the southern country of Zambia, for example, 2,000 teachers die every year from HIV/AIDS and fewer than 1,000 people graduate from teaching school. Lewis calls this a “ramshackle nightmare” that can only be solved by introducing new agricultural techniques to the country.

“All the havoc wrecked by AIDS is at the root of agriculture,” he said, adding that once the parents in a family die, there is no one to teach the orphaned children how to sustain these kinds of techniques.