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Ugandan AIDS Activist Reflects on 25 Year Battle Against Pandemic


One of Uganda’s leading AIDS activists is in Washington this week. Noerine Kaleeba is in town to promote a new documentary by the group Frontline, marking the 25th anniversary of the pandemic. It’s called “The Age of AIDS.”

Kaleeba founded the group TASO to help people living with HIV, the AIDS virus. She did so after her husband fell ill and died of AIDS in 1986 – a time when little was known about the disease. She later worked for UNAIDS for 10 years. Kaleeba spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua and reflects on the long battle against the disease.

“I keep looking back and I say if we didn’t know today that AIDS is caused by a virus…and this is how it is transmitted and this is how it doesn’t get transmitted, I think we would have been that much worse off if we didn’t know. But the fact that we knew from the beginning that it’s caused by a virus and you don’t catch it by casual means, I think helped a lot. Because if you look at the stigma, if HIV had been like SARS, I think the stigma would have been worse. And the situation of people who are infected would have been really, really much, much worse than it has been if the virus was transmissible through air or through casual transmission.”

Although Kaleeba says the response was not adequate in the beginning, she’s satisfied that at least it was a global response. “If we hadn’t looked at AIDS as a global pandemic, parts of the world which have been hard hit, like Africa, would have been very isolated.”

On the quarter-century mark of the pandemic, she says, “My emotions at the moment are mixed. I am excited with regard to how far we have come. But I’m also daunted by realizing how much farther we have to go.”

Kaleeba stresses the need to concentrate more efforts on helping and treatment women, who make up most of the HIV infections.