Africa at large: "Let's fight AIDS as we fought slavery and apartheid" - Kaunda 19. May 2003

Africa at large: "Let's fight AIDS as we fought slavery and apartheid" - Kaunda

Inter Press Service (IPS),                                       19. May 2003

By Allan Peters

Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda is no stranger to HIV/AIDS, having lost his own son to the incurable disease in the late 1980s.

After losing his son, he became the first African leader to come out publicly and campaign against the pandemic.

Now, Kaunda says African leaders should approach the fight against HIV/AIDS with the same vigour as they fought slavery, colonialism and apartheid.

In his regular TV and radio advertisements, Kaunda says there is an urgent need for African leaders to re-double their political will in order to effectively counter the spread of the pandemic, which is ravaging the continent.

Describing HIV/AIDS as Africa's most deadly enemy of the 21st century, the former freedom fighter and anti-apartheid campaigner, says: ”We've conquered slavery, colonialism and apartheid. We must now fight HIV/AIDS with increased political will from our leaders”.

Kaunda, 80, ruled Zambia between 1964 and 1991. During his presidency, he rendered unwavering support to liberation movements in neighbouring Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Since losing presidential elections in Nov. 1991, he has devoted his life to fighting the ravages of HIV/AIDS through his charity, the Kenneth Kaunda Children of Africa Foundation (KKCAF).

”To win the battle against HIV/AIDS,” he says, ”abstain from sex or use a condom every time you have sex. Go for voluntary counselling and testing. Talk openly about HIV/AIDS with your family and friends.”

”We must act because only then can we save Africa and ourselves against the most deadly enemy we have ever faced,” he says.

Kaunda's charity offers nutritional food and medical services to AIDS orphans. It also provides 160 AIDS orphans, aged between three and six, with school uniforms, pens and exercise books.

Recent U.N. Human Development Report says the HIV/AIDS pandemic will kill more than ten million people in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2015. Life expectancies, which had begun to rise in the 1960s, have plummeted since the 1990s due to the epidemic.

In the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), 6.3 million people are expected to die of the disease between 1995 and 2005, says the report.

Zambia's gross domestic product (gdp) had fallen by nine percent in 2000 as a direct result of HIV/AIDS, according to the report. The number of people living with HIV/AIDS has risen rapidly since the first case of the disease was diagnosed in Zambia in 1984.

By 1995 the number had risen to 200,000 and by the end of 1996 the figure had doubled and in 1997 it hit 1.02 million. This included 950,000 adults and 70,000 children, according to the U.N. report.

Between 1990 and 1998 Zimbabwe's life expectancy lost 12.66 years, Botswana 10.55 years, South Africa 8.73 years and Zambia 8.65 years, says the report.

In 1999, the report says, Botswana had the highest adult HIV/AIDS prevalence in the region at 36.1 percent. Zimbabwe had 24.3 percent, Lesotho 24.1 percent, Zambia 20.1 percent, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) 5.1 percent, Angola 2.8 percent and Mauritius 0.1 percent, with Tanzania having one of the least at eight percent.

In Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, 24 to 36 percent of the population between the ages of 15 to 49 are living with AIDS, according to the report.

In Zimbabwe, as a result of deteriorating social and political situation 2,500 persons are dying of AIDS-related diseases every week, says the country's ministry of health and child welfare.

In South Africa 500,000 people have died of the disease since its emergence. It is expected that this number will reach 10 million by 2015, according to the U.N. report.

The pandemic has left millions of children without parents, with Zambia alone having more than 500,000 orphans to look after.

”I support Kaunda. We need laws that check (harmful traditional) practices (like wife inheritance), protect sufferers from being stigmatised and discriminated against by society and let the majority of the poor access anti-retroviral drugs,” says Jackson Mubanga, a peer educator for HIV/AIDS. Kaunda urged businesses to play a role in combating HIV/AIDS. ”When people perish, businesses perish as well,” he states.

The Business Coalitions of AIDS in Zambia, Swaziland and South Africa's Anglo-American Corporation conduct regular awareness campaigns and counselling to employees and their spouses at the work place.

To the disappointment of anti-AIDS campaigners, the Zambia Army recently announced it would subject applicants to HIV/AIDS tests and that those who fail would not be recruited into the defence forces.