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UN Official: Industrialized Nations Must Do More to Fight AIDS in Africa - 2003-01-09

In an exceptionally strong statement, the United Nation's special envoy on AIDS in Africa called Wednesday for greater international commitment to combat the disease.

Special Envoy Stephen Lewis says the international community is committing "mass murder by complacency" because of its failure to dedicate the resources needed to battle AIDS in Africa.

To illustrate the brutality of the disease, Mr. Lewis described a recent visit he paid to a hospital pediatric ward in Lusaka, Zambia, where he encountered children dying of AIDS.

"They really had no chance. We were there for 45 minutes," he said. "Every 15 minutes, another child died. Awkwardly covered with a sheet, removed by a nurse, while the ward was filled with the anxious weeping of another mother. It was a scene from hell."

But, Mr. Lewis says, with sufficient outside help, it does not have to be that way. In the last two years, he notes, there has been a turnaround in Africa, as governments and non-governmental groups show an increasing will to work to end the pandemic.

"No matter how terrible the scourge of AIDS, no matter how limiting the capacity to respond, no matter how devastating the human toll," said Mr. Lewis, "it's absolutely certain that the pandemic can be turned around with a joint and Herculean effort between the African nations themselves and the international community."

What is missing, Mr. Lewis says, is money to pay for expensive but available anti-viral medication and to further educate the population about the disease and its transmission. He called on industrialized nations to increase their contributions to the eradication of AIDS in Africa in the "immediate future."