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Graca Machel on Reversing the AIDS Pandemic - 2002-07-11

A leading advocate for peace and children's rights says the AIDS epidemic is raising what she calls "fundamental moral questions that have never been faced before."

Speaking at the international AIDS conference in Barcelona, Ms. Machel says the pandemic has placed civilization at a "crossroads." She says it is time to question whether governments exist to serve people or themselves.

"We are talking of millions of millions of millions of people who are dying. What is happening when people hear this they do not feel their conscience shaken? What happens when they manage to go to bed and sleep and think in a span of time of time of five years instead of solving the problem? I think there is something wrong which does not bring close the face of the people in the decisions, which have to be made."

Ms. Machel says the AIDS virus - in her words - "attacks physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually - the whole well-being of the individual, family, and nation." And she says she cannot understand why rich nations do not provide money now to fight the disease, rather than disbursing it over many years.

"What I am being told as an African mother is: I am holding my child of 13, 14. I have a possibility to give to this girl a ten-year life span. And those who have the money say "wait." In five years time we will give you money to save your child."

Ms. Machal says governments and multilateral institutions must stop finding excuses to avoid acting with "urgency and aggressiveness." And she says pharmaceutical companies must put people before profits

She says much needs to be done before the next international AIDS conference in Bangkok. "We cannot come in two-years time here and talk in the same level we are talking now. We have to come and say how many lives were we able to save, how many resources were we able to move, how many of researches have we been able to put into the hands of practitioners. We should come here as an active movement and not only planning and planning and planning."

Ms. Machel is now the chancellor of the University of Cape Town and the wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela.