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Calls for Practical Ideas in Fight Against Hiv/Aid

Migiro Calls for Practical Ideas in Fight Against Hiv/Aids in Africa

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro today urged HIV/AIDS experts to focus their efforts on studies leading to practical conclusions that directly contribute to the fight against the lethal disease in Africa, at a United Nations-sponsored academic seminar.

Ms. Migiro noted that the pandemic is eroding the gains in economic development across the continent, where some 1.6 million died from AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa in 2007 alone and over 22 million are living with HIV.

“The epidemic strikes at the core of human development, killing young adults at the prime of what should be their most productive year,” Ms. Migiro told participants of the symposium on the social and economic dimensions of HIV/AIDS in Africa, held in New York.

“The epidemic systematically deprives sectors, such as health, education and agriculture, of skilled workers, thus reducing overall national productivity,” she told the symposium, organized by the UN University and Cornell University.

“Many of these sectors heavily impacted are already struggling, and the multiplied effect is crippling,” she added.

In her speech the Deputy Secretary-General encouraged academics attending the meeting to draw conclusions from their research that would be useful for organizations such as the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in Africa to strengthen their work on the ground and help local governments to plan.

“Research efforts should recommend policies for inclusion in national strategies for dealing with the disease,” she said.

Noting that HIV/AIDS has a different impact between and within countries across Africa, Ms. Migiro said that greater efforts should be made to gather information on the exact nature of the disease in a particular area.

“Use local universities and local research centres to systematically document information. They are based in Africa, are working in Africa and living in affected communities. This will improve the quality of information available.”

Using the example of the relative economic success of Botswana, Ms. Migiro said there are many questions that remain unanswered to effectively combat the disease.

“Botswana’s annual GDP growth averaged around 13 per cent from independence in 1966 to 1989. Yet… from 1990 onwards, average annual GDP growth dropped by more than half to 6 per cent [due to the effects of HIV/AIDS on the population],” she said.

“Life expectancy at birth also fell sharply from 65 years in the 1990 to 1995 period, to less than 40 years between 2000 to 2005,” she added.

She asked researchers to discover how individuals and households respond to an environment where life expectancy drops so dramatically, and whether people are willing to invest in the future or if they feel they have no future.

Ms. Migiro also used the opportunity to speak with the HIV/AIDS scholars to draw attention to the role stigma plays in preventing people affected by the disease from seeking treatment.

She argued that stigma is a significant factor allowing the epidemic to continue devastating societies across the globe.

“Stigma helps make AIDS a silent killer because people fear the social disgrace of speaking openly about the disease, or taking easily available precautions,” she said.

“We can fight stigma with enlightened laws and policies. But more importantly, these policies have to be vigorously enforced,” she added.

The HIV/AIDS meeting is the third symposium in the UNU-Cornell “Africa Series”, which will help inform the high-level meeting on Africa’s development needs to be held during the General Assembly, starting later this month.

ENDS

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