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UN:  AIDS Pandemic Can be Defeated - 2002-02-27

The United Nations' Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa insists the AIDS pandemic can be overcome, but only once the global community gets serious about providing the resources to defeat it.

Following his latest visit to Namibia and Kenya, Stephen Lewis says he is encouraged by a slight decline in HIV infection rates. He says there is little doubt that prevention programs on a grassroots level are having an effect. According to the U.N. representative, what is needed now is a coordinated effort between the developed and developing world.

"There is simply no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the pandemic can be defeated," he said. "And I am driven to distraction by the apocalyptic interpretation everywhere. Of course the pandemic is a cataclysm for anyone who is infected, and it's beyond description for the people yet to be infected," he continued, "but there is no question that there is so much going on at the community level, we know so many of the answers, that if we could summon the financial resources we could turn this pandemic around."

Mr. Lewis also drew a parallel between economic growth and health. The degree of HIV infection, he says, is directly related to a developing country's ability to grow.

"The disease burden in these countries is so high, unless you deal with the health you simply cannot have economic growth," he said.

Pointing to infection rates in Kenya, Mr. Lewis noted a one percent decline over the previous statistics, from 14 to 13 percent. Although only a modest improvement, he said that was a clear indication of progress. He added the virus can be contained, provided prevention programs are properly maintained.