MEXICO CITY — Ex-presidents, religious leaders and African celebrities have joined former Botswana president Festus Mogae’s leadership initiative to fight HIV on the continent.
Dubbed ‘Champions for an HIV-free Generation”, the group includes former presidents Joaquim Chissano (Mozambique), Benjamin Mkapa (Tanzania), and Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Judge Edwin Cameron, Ethiopian super model Liya Kebede and Kenyan Professor Miriam Were.
The group, which was launched on Tuesday (5th) at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, aims to engage with all African leaders to dramatically improve efforts to prevent the spread of HIV.
‘We need to innovate and reinvigorate our approach to HIV, focusing on prevention,’ said Mogae. ‘Our current practices are somewhat dated. We need to think out of the box. We need a creative new approach to catalyse country and regional level leadership.’
The champions will provide visible leadership on HIV/AIDS, said Mogae. In addition, they would ‘mobilise other leaders to advocate strong and effective action on prevention, and dialogue on changing the social norms that constrain prevention’.
The “Champions” are supported by UNAIDS, the World Bank, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the World Health Organisation.
The Champions will be assisted by a technical team based at the SADC headquarters in Gaborone, Botswana.
Judge Edwin Cameron said he was honoured to take part in the initiative.
‘The champions will provide visibility of leadership on HIV. There is no better leader to do this than President Mogae,’ said Cameron. ‘When my own country was mired in the ghastly nightmare of President Mbeki’s AIDS denial, President Mogae was coming out very clearly on the importance of offering his people HIV treatment and care.’
The group would also emphasize ‘correct messages’ and ‘effective action’, said Cameron, praising Mogae’s ‘unflinchingly open approach to HIV treatment and care’.
Ambassador Mark Dybul, who heads the US President’s Emergency Programme for AIDS Relief (Pepfar) said it was ‘extraordinarily humbling’ to be with the champions.
‘You are all leaders who have transformed your countries and all the partners are tremendously excited. This is African leadership creating African solutions and we are just junior partners,’ said Dybul.
The World Bank’s Joy Pumaphi, and a former Botswana health minister, said she was ‘elated’ by the prospect of working with the ‘brilliant’ Mogae.
‘We know that we cannot sustain treatment and care infinitely unless we substantially reduce and arrest the spread of HIV,’ she added.
South Africa Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, head of the county’s delegation to the conference, said that while she was unaware of Mogae’s initiative, the SA National AIDS Conference and government would be happy to interact with it.
‘We have identified prevention as a weakness ourselves,’ said Mlambo-Ngcuka. ‘ health-e news.