Annan's new envoy pledges to build momentum in fight against AIDS in Africa

Annan's new envoy pledges to build momentum in fight against AIDS in Africa

Stephen Lewis, a veteran Canadian diplomat and humanitarian advocate, named by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan as his Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, pledged today to work tirelessly in an effort to harness recent momentum in the global fight against the pandemic.

"I feel truly privileged to receive this appointment and to have the confidence of the Secretary-General to undertake this work," Mr. Lewis told reporters at a news conference in New York. "I shall plunge into it with full heart."

Underscoring the growing momentum in the fight against AIDS, Mr. Lewis said he felt "a cautious but insistent sense of hope." Drug prices had plummeted, African leaders were engaged as never before, and the Secretary-General's own "dramatic personal commitment" to rally the international community marked a "galvanic movement in addressing this dreadful disease," he said.

"At no time, over the last 20 years in dealing with this incomparable tragedy in sub-Saharan Africa, has there ever been such a sense of collective resolve and collective possibility," he said. While acknowledging the magnitude of the task ahead, he added, "it will be painfully slow and incremental, but this is the moment in time."

"What the world needs is a sense of hope and momentum, and we are on the cusp of that now," he said, pledging, as a first step, to sit down with senior officials in African countries to determine which anti-AIDS measures could be implemented as soon as possible "and gradually build outwards to a sub-regional level so that finally the whole continent is brought in."

Introducing Mr. Lewis at today's press briefing, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette called him a "passionate advocate" for Africa. "He has devoted many, many years of his life to Africa and the Secretary-General could not choose a better person I think to do this very important work on HIV/AIDS.

The new envoy, who served as Deputy Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) from 1995-1999, will be responsible for ensuring follow-up to the African summit on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases held in Abuja, Nigeria, last April, and to next month's UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, as related to Africa.

Mr. Lewis has had extensive experience as a politician, diplomat and humanitarian. A passionate advocate of the rights and needs of children, since leaving UNICEF in 1999 he has been raising his voice in support of various humanitarian causes around the world, particularly in Africa and on HIV/AIDS.