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Global AIDS Week Commemorated

This is Global AIDS Week (5/20-26). It’s an international effort to raise awareness about the pandemic and to call for greater resources to treat those who are infected with HIV, the AIDS virus.

Leonard Okello is the head of ActionAid’s HIV/AIDS program, which operates in 48 countries. From Nairobi, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about whether progress is being made against the disease.

“The world needs to recognize now more than ever that 25 years down the line, since we first heard about HIV and AIDS, we are not winning the war against AIDS. The infection rates continue to rise,” he says.

He says, for example, many considered southern Africa the heart of the pandemic, but now infection rates are climbing in Asia, especially India.

Okello says, “The treatment is not getting out there to everybody that needs it. I think there are two problems. The first problem is that rich countries give lots of commitments. When I last met (British prime Minister) Tony Blair…in 2005, he said, ‘Leonard…it’s going to be a tough negotiation, but HIV will become a priority in Africa.’ And they came up with this resolution at the G8…but the point is they’ve never come up with a funding plan. So for me, that worries me a lot.

“The second thing is we have a very weak health system, especially the primary health care point, where the testing, the counseling, the treatment and care should be given.”

ActionAid says that 76 percent of all new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa occur in women and girls. Okello says, “You do not see a radical approach to facing the challenges and the realities of women and girls.”

Okello says there are very few programs specifically targeting women and girls, programs that deal with the “concerns and the rights of women at the community level where they see it, where they face the challenges, where the young girl meets the first boyfriend or meets an old man who is giving her money.”

Next month, G8 leaders will hold their annual summit. Critics say they haven’t done enough to fulfill their promise made at the Gleneagles summit in 2005 to provide near universal access to AIDS treatment. Okello says, “Put your money where your mouth is. Stop talk, talk, talk. Give us a funding plan, put the money on the table, then deliver. If you have the money to give us, give us money that responds to our understanding and our methodologies that work for us. And don’t come with a list of methodologies and tools that you think work for us when you have not asked what works for us down here. We will deliver.”