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Will St. Petersburg G-8 Summit Boost African Fight against HIV and TB?

Last year’s G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland focused on Africa and resulted in a pledge to eventually provide aids drugs to all those in need. Next month, the G8 summit will be held in St. Petersburg, Russia. Russia has one of the fastest growing aids infection rates in the world. And like Africa, is also seeing the spread of drug resistant strains of tuberculosis.

Among those following G8 developments on those issues is international AIDS activist Winstone Zulu, the first person in Zambia to make his HIV status public. In Washington, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about what he expects from the St. Petersburg summit.

“I understand that (Russian) President Putin has put energy, education and infectious diseases as the three top priorities on the agenda. So, hopefully they will use the summit, the G8 summit, to work on the promises that they’ve made. Because I think most of last year was a lot of promises. The G8 summit in Gleneagles and then Africa, in August, declared TB an emerging crisis. And now we have this coming summit and my hope is that as far as TB is concerned, for example, the G8 leaders will endorse the Global Plan to Stop TB.”

Asked whether President Putin might be more sensitive to health issues, considering the high HIV and TB rates in Russia, Zulu says, “I think more than any other G8 leader the problem of infectious diseases is very close to home with Russia than the others. For instance, Russia is number 12 most hit (12th hardest hit) country with tuberculosis. And the problem of drug resistance is just next door…in the other former Soviet Countries.”

Zulu says that besides following through on past promises, he wants G8 leaders to throw their support behind a major TB initiative. “I think my passion at the moment is on the issue of TB and TB/HIV. For instance, the top TB partnership has a global plan to stop TB. It’s almost like a business plan with all the components that can make it work. And this is a program that can actually save millions of lives.”

The Zambian activist says more than any other opportunistic infection, TB has the strongest link to HIV.