The first lady of Zambia, Maureen Mwanawasa says her government realizes the depth of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. She spoke at a press conference at the fifteenth international aids conference in Bangkok.Ms. Mwanawasa spoke compassionately about the problem of AIDS. She spoke not only for Zambia, but for all of Africa, and began by saying abstaining from sex will not solve the problem. “Given the impact of this disease, we cannot afford to preach abstinence alone,” she says. Zambia’s first lady reiterated that time is of the essence. She said in order to save lives all action to fight aids must be a top priority. “In the short term, I think we have to act quickly and see how to protect the population, and we are losing people that we all love – the friends, brothers, sisters, parents. So it’s not something that you can really play with,” she says. Ms. Mwanawasa offered a common sense approach to justify abstinence, using loyalty and cost effectiveness as motivations. “The ideal would be fidelity [and] abstinence. And I think it’s even cheaper. It does not require any means to achieve that,” she says. The first lady also took the opportunity to support Africa’s leaders. she said they’re very interested and concerned about the AIDS pandemic as it affects their own states, and Africa at large. “I would wish to say something about our heads of state, there is no lack of commitment in our countries. This problem is very big, the magnitude is beyond anybody’s … we cannot be comfortable with what we are seeing on our continent, so saying that our heads of state are not committed is totally wrong,” she says. As an example of serious commitment, the Zambian first lady said her country, as well as other sub-Saharan African countries, have “institutional structures” dealing with AIDS that report directly to the president.
She also said the Zambian president did not get an official invitation until “ a week or two weeks before the conference.” Ms. Mwanawasa said if Zambia was not committed to fighting AIDS seriously -- considering the last minute invitation -- no official delegation from Zambia would have come.