A call for Commonwealth leaders to heed

Guyana Chronicle
November 10, 1999

THERE should be more than passing interest here in at least one call going before Commonwealth leaders meeting in Durban, South Africa, this week at their annual summit.

The Commonwealth Medical Association (CMA) Trust said it would lobby leaders at the conference to declare a global state of emergency on AIDS and lead efforts to stem the pandemic.

The latest news on the dreaded disease is not comforting with predictions of its continuing spread, particularly among the bulk of the population in poorer countries of the world.

Guyana has not been spared the dreaded onslaught and there is cause for increasing alarm in reports that not enough people here are as aware as they should be of the seriousness of the situation.

We have noted before the assessment that translating knowledge of the disease and its spread into safe sexual practices is the major hurdle in this country and greater emphasis has to be on getting people to really appreciate the horrors of AIDS and its awful impact.

The message just does not seem to be getting home with the seriousness it warrants and the focus of the CMA Trust in South Africa this week is therefore highly commendable in getting leaders to throw their weight behind the campaign and to find a solution to the spread of the disease.

The CMA wants Commonwealth leaders to give greater priority to research on developing a vaccine that would be affordable and suitable for developing countries.

Given the prohibitive costs of drugs developed so far in the more advanced countries to treat AIDS and HIV victims, poorer countries have to find the means of tackling the situation that are within their immensely skimpy budgets.

And the CMA seems to have adopted a sensible and practical approach to the issue.

"The idea behind it is we encourage the heads of government in their communique to point out that HIV/AIDS is a state of emergency," CMA director Marianne Haslegrave told the Reuters news agency this week.

"If we're going to be able to do anything, the heads of government have to acknowledge the reality of the situation and to begin the debate that needs to be taking place and to be in the forefront of speaking out against the spread of HIV/AIDS."

There is no comfort in the growing statistics.

There are 16,000 new infections around the world daily, the majority of these in sub-Saharan Africa, and last year 2.5 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 1998 World Population Profile, AIDS has cut life expectancy to less than 40 from 65 years in several Commonwealth countries in southern Africa, including Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The Commonwealth represents enough of the world's peoples and its leaders carry enough weight to be able to make a difference in charting a more aggressive and effective campaign against the AIDS/HIV pandemic.

The leaders in South Africa this week can show they care enough by taking up the challenge.

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