Kaunda speaks of AIDS epidemic

    Former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda spoke on the growing AIDS crisis in Africa on March 7. His lecture, titled “”HIV/AIDS in Africa,”” addressed the present crisis and the actions necessary to control the disease.

    Kaunda served as founding president of the Republic of Zambia from 1964 until 1991. During this time, he became the first head of state in Africa to acknowledge the growing scale and destructiveness of the AIDS virus. Since 1991, he has focused his efforts on the crisis, establishing the Kaunda Children of Africa Foundation in 2002. The foundation includes services for education and treatment.

    According to statistics of AIDS infection in Africa given by the Rotary AIDS Project, the number of infected persons is estimated at 30 million, with 3 million of those infected under the age of 15. Those infected in Africa represent 71 percent of the known infected persons in the world. Kaunda also reported that the prevalence of the disease in Zambia is at 16 percent, although he acknowledged that the actual numbers might be much greater because a full census of the people has never been done. He said that there is an urgent need for more accurate figures to know the full impact of the disease and plan for treatment and prevention.

    Though Kaunda’s lecture focused mainly on those infected, they are not his only concern. There are more than 12.1 million African children orphaned by the disease, a fact Kaunda knows all too well. His own son died from AIDS, leaving behind a wife and six children.

    “”AIDS has the potential to create the world’s first holocaust of human beings,”” Kaunda said.

    Kaunda discussed many of the factors of the spread of AIDS in Africa, saying that to deal with the impact of the disease, it is first necessary to deal with these factors. One of the most prevalent of these was the economic state of the countries in Africa. He offered this as the reason for inadequate education and treatment facilities. Kanuda also suggested that greater aid was necessary not only from the African governments, but also from the private sectors because it is with the increase of funding that changes can be made. Kaunda said that funding from any source would never be refused. President George W. Bush addressed the AIDS epidemic in his 2003 State of the Union when he announced a $15 billion allocation to AIDS relief in Africa.

    “”We are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers,”” Kaunda said. “”Our home as our community is linked to the healing of those around us.””

    According to Kaunda, the most important step in the control of the disease is to further efforts of preventive education. He targeted this as the critical factor in slowing down the infection rate. Kaunda cited abstinence, condom use and HIV testing as the necessary focuses of this education. He said that though there have been efforts by Western groups to educate, these groups often do not tailor their programs for the environment and people of Africa, and so often these programs can be counter-productive. Kaunda said that the education programs must consider specific cultural factors in their creation in order to be fully effective.

    Equally important to education efforts, Kaunda said, is the treatment of those currently infected by AIDS. According to the 2003 State of the Union Address, anti-retroviral drugs currently cost around $300 a year. This is out of reach for almost all those infected in Africa. Kaunda said that not only is there a need to make current treatment options more available, treatments need not be limited to Western protocols, and more work should be done using available resources on the African continent.

    According to Kaunda, the future of Africa is dependent on the control of the AIDS virus.

    He said that great efforts are currently being made to counter the stigma of the disease.

    “”We have overcome many great travails as blacks and whites working together,”” Kaunda said. “”We have overcome slavery, the middle passage, colonization, segregation, apartheid and, with the help of God, we can overcome AIDS.””

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