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African Legislators Discuss Fight Against HIV, Poverty


More than 200 parliamentary delegates meeting in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, are discussing how African legislators could contribute to the global fight against HIV/AIDS and poverty on the continent.

The parliamentarians, representing legislators and speakers from 18 African countries, are attending the 37th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, African Region, conference.

Addressing the session, Ghana's Vice President, Alhaji Aliu Mahama, said gains made on democracy and debt relief initiatives are in danger of being undermined by what he calls the silent, but deadly advance of HIV/AIDS.

He said more than 28 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are incapable of production due to the disease, leaving them and their dependents in poverty and overloading national public health delivery systems.

Mahama said the impact of AIDS on Africa's labor force is hitting hard on both the public and the private sectors alike, and urged African lawmakers to lead the fight against HIV and poverty.

He said more than 70 percent of the people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ghanaian parliament member Abraham Ossei-Aidooh said the disease is a threat to democracy.

"AIDS is mounting a global assault on democracy indirectly," he said. "We are losing human resources. United Nations, AU and all countries are compelled to divert crucial resources for development to fight AIDS. The effect eventually will be governments' inability to deliver on the promise of democracy, because you have lost your human resources and you have to divert critical financial and other resources to fight AIDS and eventually you would have failed as a democracy."

The conference is also discussing how to work towards 50 percent woman representation in decision-making bodies.

Deputy Speaker Anne Makinda, of Tanzania's parliament, which has more than 30 percent female representation, says countries need to enact laws to increase women's participation in legislative bodies.

"What we think should be done is to put these decisions or resolutions which are made in different conferences and different workshops into constitutions," she said. "If we do that then there is no way, at the certain given time there will be so many women in the house and at another period there will be none."

Makinda says without proper legislation, efforts to get women involved in decision-making could be wasted.

Other issues being discussed during the next three days include multi-party democracy in Africa and the independence of the judiciary.