Graca Machel lambasts governments’€™ poor AIDS response

Governments’€™ inadequate response to HIV/AIDS came under heavy criticism by global children’€™s rights activist Graca Machel at the world AIDS conference in Barcelona font>

“We are at a crossroads in our civilisation,” Machel told the plenary of the conference. “The AIDS pandemic raises the fundamental question of whether governments are there to serve the people or are there for themselves. Can the needs of the people be postponed because there are elections to take care of?”

“There are millions and millions and millions of people dying. What happens that politicians manage to go to bed at night and they do not see the faces of those people?”

Machel added that while governments in southern African had AIDS prevention programmes, they were “unclear about what to do about treatment and care” of people already living with HIV/AIDS. This is one of the Treatment Action Campaign’€™s key criticisms of the South African government.

She added that people in the sub-region were still debating the morality of condoms instead of using the extensive networks of religious organisations to reach every corner of southern Africa to distribute condoms and educate people about how to prevent HIV infection.

She also hit out at employers who had the resources to deal with the disease but were “too territorial to share resources”.

Fighting HIV/AIDS starts in the privacy of the home, said Machel, and women needed to be “outspoken, bold, aggressive and uncompromising” in addressing the spread of the disease with “our husbands, sons and brothers”.

“We must even challenge tradition if needs be to change the balance of power so that our children and our grandchildren are saved from HIV.”

Machel said it was a shame that heads of states and finance ministers were not in Barcelona, and hit out at the lack of morality of rich countries who promised resources to poorer countries affected by HIV but said there resources would only be released in three to five years’€™ time.

“What you are saying to me as an African mother holding my sick teenage child is that I must wait a few years  before you will release the money to save my child.”

She also called on pharmaceutical companies to release their patents “so generic anti-retroviral drugs can be available to the millions of poor people who need them”.

“We know they are there to make money and I don’€™t question that, but if you sell your medicines to 30 million people rather than three million, you will still make money.”

She concluded by saying that the tide of HIV infection could still be turned ‘€“ “but only if we attack the disease as aggressively and comprehensively as the virus is attacking us”.

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