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Mugabe Addresses AIDS Conference - 2004-06-16

Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe, has addressed the country's first national HIV/AIDS conference in Harare.

In his address, President Mugabe spoke about the progress made in the fight against HIV/AIDS since the first HIV case was diagnosed in Zimbabwe in 1985.

Mr. Mugabe said while a lot of ground has been covered in terms of making Zimbabweans aware of the virus, a lot still has to be done.

He applauded the recent launch of an anti-retroviral drug program, which he said can only reach a maximum of 10,000 people because of a lack of funds. Mr. Mugabe stressed the need for more resources and for the building of what he called "sustainable partnerships" to enable more people to benefit from the program. He also called for voluntary counseling and testing centers to spread out to the rural areas.

Mr. Mugabe said because of the limited access the majority of Zimbabweans have to modern medicines, traditional medicine could also play a role.

"There is a need also to compliment expensive modern ARVs [anti-retroviral drugs] by finding a role for effective traditional medicine in AIDS care,? Mr. Mugabe. ?After all, the majority of our people still rely on and could benefit from traditional medicine as long as the proposed remedies pass and I emphasize, pass the necessary medicines control tests."

The president's announcement was welcomed by Professor Gordon Chavunduka, the president of the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association, who said his organization has tried for years to work with the Health Ministry to combat HIV/AIDS, but had met with stiff resistance. He said some traditional healers can ease the symptoms of AIDS but, like modern medicine, they have not come up with a cure.

President Mugabe also expressed his appreciation for the assistance Zimbabwe has received in the fight against AIDS from multilateral organizations of the United Nations. Noting that there are more than 300 non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations in the country, he called for a more harmonized approach to helping AIDS victims by reducing duplication and avoiding the unnecessary waste of resources.

"Those involved in HIV/AIDS programs need to work in a co-ordinated manner which strengthens the agreed framework of what is now known as the "Three Ones", namely, one national plan for the fight against HIV and Aids, one co-coordinating authority and one monitoring and evaluating system," Mr. Mugabe said.

Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda will address the conference Thursday. He was one of the first people to go public about AIDS when his son died of the disease in 1986.