Youths in need

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Dr. Stephen Lewis speaks out about global support for HIV and AIDS at the RPIRG AGM

Iryn Tushabe
News writer

If you are anything like Dr. Stephen Lewis, the toll that HIV/AIDS has taken on African and other developing countries deeply disturbs you.

At the RPIRG Annual General Meeting, held on Sept. 25, Dr. Lewis expressed his appreciation towards youths for the effort they have put forth in improving the human condition.

“I like your emphasis on youth, and this being the international year of youth and I agree that there is a kind of renaissance in the youth community in this country. There’s a tremendous sense of struggling for social justice of changing this world for the better.”

According to Lewis, the HIV virus is predominant amongst the young, and especially women and girls, in Africa, “One of the great achievements over the last couple of years is the fact that the prevalence rate of HIV is beginning to stabilize and in some countries decline in the age range 15-24 as the young people take on board the prevention messages which are absolutely fundamental to defeating the virus.”

Lewis expressed concern toward the cutback in global funding by G7 countries that have, in the past, been the biggest contributors. He said that the global fund, headed by an inspired Michele Kazatchkine has asked for $17 billion over the next three years in order to maintain the present course of intervention around the treatment of AIDS, TB, and malaria but instead they are getting $13 billion.

“Without the necessary flow of resources … some people in the developing countries world, particularly in Africa, are in a positive panic. This is a betrayal and a negation of what was committed.”

The global fund to fight AIDS, TB, malaria, and other communicable diseases has been the most significant intervention the world has made in the last decade. It has provided more funds and made a greater difference to saving lives than any other organization in the world. With this devastating cutback, Lewis believes not only will the over 6 billion people on anti-retroviral drugs be affected, but also the 9-10 billion people who require treatment will not be able to get it. The global fund required $23 billion dollars in order to cater for everyone. 

“This is a matter of some consternation and will have a terrible toll on human life,” he said with emotion.

Lewis figures that in order to get to pay our fair share to the world, Canada should be giving something in the vicinity of $300 million a year not the $180 million as promised by Prime Minister Steven Harper at the 2010 Millennium Goals Summit.

“Even President Obama has been begrudging on the amount of money that is going to be given, and that has been mirrored in the French, German, Italian, and Japanese contribution … We have trillions of dollars available when it comes to finding money for stimulus packages or for bailing out the banks or for fighting the war in Afghanistan or dealing with terrorism or for dealing with oil spills but we can never find an infinitesimal smidgen of that amount as a response to global public health, and it’s crazy.”

His involvement in fighting the virus in Africa has made him aware of far bigger problems than HIV/AIDS. He mentions a visit he made to sub-Saharan Africa a while back. People were so hungry that medical treatment came secondary to a bowl of soup. He also recalls horrifying stories told by Zimbabwean women who had been gang raped by their own soldiers following the orders of President Robert Mugabe. Lewis mentions the terrible nightmares that Congolese women also suffer because of the same experiences.

Clearly, Lewis knows something about the pain and suffering endured by people, especially women, in the developing world.

The Stephen Lewis Foundation has a goal to raise $15,000 this year in a bid to turn the tide of HIV/AIDS in Africa. Lewis is especially full of praise for the Canadian Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign which, since its launch by the Foundation in 2006, has raised over $10 million to mobilize support for African grandmothers. Some of these grandmothers have over 15 grandchildren in their care, having lost their children to diseases like AIDS and malaria.

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