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Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria wage determined battle against AIDS -- UN envoy

Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria wage determined battle against AIDS -- UN envoy

Returning from a fact-finding trip to three African countries, a senior United Nations official said today that Kenya, Rwanda and Nigeria today were waging a determined effort to battle the pandemic, offering hope that it could be reversed and even defeated.

Stephen Lewis, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, told a news conference at UN Headquarters in New York that after meeting with high-level officials and grass-roots activists in all three countries he was "even more confident" that it would be possible to turn the tide of the pandemic despite the challenges facing the continent.

"We've all heard of the alleged crippling constraints - from the tatters of the health infrastructure, to the absence of human resources, to bureaucracy that doesn't work," he noted. "There is a lot of truth about those constraints, but I want to say for one that it is a cruel and reckless distortion of reality to assume that the constraints must inhibit all intervention."

"There is tremendous progress which can now be made in the face of the obstacles - and indeed the entire continent can re-embrace survival and flourish if we overcome the obstacles," he added.

Among the reasons for his optimism, Mr. Lewis cited the "extraordinary and pervasive sense of awareness which now exists in country after country" that he visited. National leaders who had "undoubtedly overcome the denial which was explicit before" were now committed to battling the disease.

In Kenya, for example, the Government had paved the way for importing or even producing anti-retroviral drugs, while "impressive" efforts were continuing to produce a vaccine. Rwanda, which had suffered genocide in 1994 and was now facing the devastation of AIDS, was making "extraordinary" efforts to cope, especially in preventing the transmission of HIV from mother-to-child.

Mr. Lewis noted that Nigeria was taking unprecedented steps to combat the virus. "It is the Government's intention on September 1st to begin a process of antiretroviral treatment in Nigeria which will be, at least initially, larger than anywhere else on the continent," he said. The effort would involve treating 10,000 adults and 5,000 children.

The Global AIDS and Health Fund proposed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan had "induced a spirit of hope and anticipation" among African countries, Mr. Lewis stressed.

In a related development, a UN spokesperson announced today that Mr. Annan had appointed Dr. Crispus Kiyonga of Uganda as the Chair of the Transitional Working Group for the establishment of the AIDS Fund. Dr. Kiyonga, who is currently acting National Political Advisor and Minister without Portfolio in Uganda's Cabinet, was previously Uganda's Health Minister and Finance Minister.

The Working Group will work through the end of this year to set up the Fund in accordance with the interim arrangements agreed upon during a Brussels meeting earlier in July between UN officials and representatives of the developed and developing nations, non-governmental organizations and the private sector.