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AU Commissioner: Africa Wants Ownership of AIDS Fight


Ethiopian orphans Endashew (R) and his sister Yeshiwork, who lost both their parents to HIV/AIDS, sit outside their family house near the capital Addis Ababa, (file photo)

Ethiopian orphans Endashew (R) and his sister Yeshiwork, who lost both their parents to HIV/AIDS, sit outside their family house near the capital Addis Ababa, (file photo)

African delegates at Sunday's International Conference on AIDS in Africa are planning to demand greater ownership of the battle against sexually transmitted infections.

African Union Social Affairs Commissioner Bience Gawanas says it is time the continent has a greater say in how the fight against sexually-transmitted diseases is fought. Gawanas told a World AIDS Day observance at AU headquarters that the continent most affected by the epidemic must take ownership of the battle to eradicate it.

"It is so unfair that everybody talks about Africa being the continent with the highest disease burden, whether it is as a result of HIV, malaria or TB, but it is also the continent where the people do not have all access to treatment," said Gawanas. "And this is the debate that is currently being held is how can we build Africa's capacity to manufacture drugs."

Jan Beagle, deputy executive director of the United Nations AIDS agency, said the international conference opening Sunday in Addis Ababa will celebrate great progress that has been made made in the fight against sexually-transmitted infections. She noted 22 African nations have registered declines in the number of new infections.

Still, statistics show that Africa, with less than 15 percent of the world's population, bears the burden of two-thirds of all HIV/AIDS cases.

Beagle said the success of the AIDS fight at a time of shrinking resources depends on increasing local ownership.

"It's simply not sustainable for the overwhelming resources for this epidemic to be coming from outside the continent, so we need to look at ways we can increase domestic resources, but also that we can be smarter, that we can use technology and new innovations in ways that can reduce the costs," said Beagle.

While Africa will be the focus of the AIDS conference, organizers say it will draw scientists, activists and experts from more than a dozen countries. U.S. Ambassador to the African Union Michael Battle said the presence of a high-level U.S. delegation will emphasize Washington's bipartisan support for the battle to conquer AIDS.

"One of the reasons we are extremely glad former U.S. President George W. Bush will be attending the conference here in Addis is that President Bush was responsible for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, which has spent a tremendous amount of money not only on the continent of Africa, but throughout the world to reach a point where we can greatly reduce and eliminate HIV and AIDS," said Battle.

Organizers say the conference is expected to draw more than 5,000 delegates for an exchange of scientific knowledge and best practices on HIV/AIDS.

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