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Global AIDS Fund: Zambian Activist - 2002-04-24

Thursday,April 24th, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is expected to announce how it will distribute several hundred million dollars. Many AIDS activists and non-governmental organizations are calling on the fund to allocate a good portion of the money for treatment. It’s estimated the three diseases kill six million people each year. One AIDS activist has traveled from Zambia to New York to lobby for more funds for treatment.

Brigitte Syamalevwe is the head of the Lusaka-based NGO, Life AIDS International. At age 43, she has 11 children and five grandchildren. Her husband is critically ill from the complications of AIDS. She herself has been living with HIV for 12 years.

She says, "I think I am every woman living with HIV/AIDS. And I’m every person living with HIV/AIDS talking a language that is not heard."

She says she speaks for the South, or the developing world, where AIDS has its stronghold. And she wants the North, the rich nations and private groups who’ve donated to the fund, to pay attention.

"The people in the North get entangled with economies, with statistics, with strategies, challenges," she says. "And they keep on muscling each other. You know, they are in a muscle show to show who has got power to hold life. I would want to appeal to people that they should stop playing God."

She says while prevention programs will help stop many people from becoming infected in the first place, the programs do not help those already HIV-positive. That’s why she and other activists are calling on the global fund to ensure enough money is set aide for the treatment of tuberculosis, malaria and especially AIDS.

Ms. Syamalevwe says, "Twenty years wanting access to drugs is a crime to humanity. And allowing time of decision to pass while parents, daughters and husbands, wives and children are dying is an act of terrorism. I have as much right to life and the quality of life that is part of humanity. My dignity is your dignity. My rights to life are your rights to life."

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has received more than 300 requests for funding over the past few months. It’s estimated those requests total billions of dollars. Currently the fund has more than a billion dollars to work with. But it’s not clear how much of that money will be released on Thursday, when it allocates funds for the first time. It’s also uncertain what countries and programs will benefit.