Addis Ababa, December 06, 2011 - More women involved in high level decisions concerning HIV/AIDS in Africa, restoration of the Global Fund by donor countries who have backed out of their commitments and fewer excuses by donor countries for lack of funding.
Those were the main points of the passionate speech given by Stephen Lewis, Co-Director of AIDS-Free World, at the plenary session on the second conference day of the 2011 International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA).
Following plenary session speeches concerned mainly with prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), Lewis pointed out that, "it's the rare woman indeed who doesn't ultimately report to a man in the world of HIV," and given that PMTCT is essentially a woman's issue, women should be at the forefront of the struggle.
Lewis went on to chide HIV/AIDS organizations that dragged their feet for nearly five years, mired in "denialism" and silently waiting in a state of "self-justifying paralysis of excruciating scientific precision" before touting male-circumcision as defense against AIDS.
"I cannot forget the numbers of lives that might have been prolonged if we hadn't waited nearly five years to create the momentum that now propels us," he said.
Finally, Lewis struck a chord with the plenary audience addressing the donor community and the recent announcement of the Global Fund's inability to provide aid money for Africa between now and 2014. "It's unconscionable, indefensible, outrageous. It's murder. And the donor countries expect to get away with it because there's a culture of fiscal impunity," Lewis said.
Drawing on historical context, Lewis accused donor countries of "owing" Africa after having "ransacked" the continent for the last six hundred years, stating "the donor countries have no right to withdraw."
"The money from the Global Fund and PEPFAR amount to partial reparations," he said to thousands of attendees at the conference.
Lewis also called on President Barak Obama to increase the United States' contribution to the Global Fund from $4 billion USD to $6 billion USD to cover the funding gap created by European donor countries.
Other speakers in the day's plenary applauded African countries for reaching high levels of antiretroviral coverage for expecting mothers. "Mother to child transmission has to be contextualized within the constraints of maternal health," according to Senior Program Advisor for HIV at UNICEF. "And we need to redouble our efforts in family planning."
However, aiming to provide 90 percent of pregnant women in Africa with antiretroviral therapy (ART), countries such as Malawi, Angola, Nigeria, Chad and the DRC continue at less than 30 percent coverage. Yet countries like South Africa can rejoice in achieving the virtual elimination of MTCT, according to Professor Sheila Tlou, Director of UNAIDS Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa.
"The next challenge is to reach the poorest women and link facilities to the most deprived communities," she said, citing geographical coverage as the one of the main components of achieving the virtual elimination of MTCT.