The H-110 room at Concordia’s Sir George Williams (SGW) campus was standing room only Thursday, as students and staff sat in silence while the United Nations (UN) Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa urged Canadians to stand up and fight the worldwide pandemic.
“This world needs a voice,” Stephen Lewis said. “The voice we need is this country.”
The former leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) gave a 90-minute lecture, entitled Race Against Time, where he addressed students’ concerns on Africa. Lewis gave suggestions to those who were interested in getting involved and recounted a number of his experiences within the continent.
“The decimation of so many people is beyond the knowledge of common people,” he said. “In a period of 40 minutes, four children die.”
Lewis was very particular in telling listeners that it is Canada’s time to step up and set the example for the fight. Up to now, Canada has donated $100,000 to the three-by-five campaign, a global initiative of the World Health Organization and UNAIDS. The initiative aims to provide antiretroviral therapy to 3 million people with HIV/AIDS in developing countries by the end of 2005.
According to Lewis, the campaign will have only served about 1.5 million people by the end of this year.
“Our voice needs to be heard in an uncompromising way,” he said. “We had a $9 billion surplus two years ago, a $9 billion surplus last year and a $9 or $10 million surplus this year.”
Addressing this year’s G8 Summit, held in Gleneagles, Scotland in early July, Lewis said the claims made by participating countries were “preposterous.” He said that if the 0.7 per cent target aid was put into place, countries would be donating a sum of $200 billion in the fight against HIV/AIDS. However, Lewis said that he “is not prepared to believe” these promises after Global Fund held their Replenishment Meeting in September.
Global Fund is a partnership between governments, civil societies, the private sector and affected communities, created to dramatically increase resources to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, three of the world’s most devastating diseases. The partnership then directs those resources to areas of greatest need.
In September, Global Fund asked countries of the G8 Summit to contribute $8 billion to the partnership. According to Lewis, members were very optimistic after the claims made by the countries in July. However, Global Fund’s demands fell short after countries donated $3.7 billion, $3.4 billion short of what they asked.
“We have to pressure major governments and NGO’s because of their refusal to set a time table for the 0.7 per cent,” Lewis said.
In addition to this, Lewis said that only $6.1 billion had been given in the fight against HIV/AIDS last year, and this year’s numbers will only rise to $8.3 billion. By 2010, Lewis predicted that these numbers will be up to $30 billion, a far stretch from the $200 billion that was agreed upon in July.
“Africa is struggling monumentally,” Lewis said, adding that the world is guilty of “criminal negligence.”
Assessing himself as pro-feminist, Lewis addressed the grave realities that women face in Africa and the ever increasing number of orphans within the continent.
“It is unbelievable what is happening to the women of the developing world, especially in Africa,” he said. “You can visit whole rural villages where there are no women in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.”
Recalling from his experiences in Africa, Lewis remembered seeing women building coffins, telling him that they weren’t able to keep up with the demand. He said that many women would ask him what would happen to their children after they had died and why developed countries weren’t making more of an effort to send help.
“[The women of Africa] realize what they’re dealing with,” Lewis said. “There are 12 million people in Malawi, there are 94 public doctors.”
According to Lewis, the continent is now suffering from a generational absence. He said most people take for granted the knowledge that is brought down from generation to generation, but in Africa, the grandmothers have come out as the heroes. With 14-15 million orphans in sub Sahara Africa, grandmothers are taking in children and teaching them valuable skills for the future. Nevertheless, Lewis asked what would happen after the grandmothers died.
“In the presence of the pandemic of AIDS, people are dying in their middle productive years,” he said. “Agricultural produce is all they have.”
The latest studies show that in Africa, the average child heading the household is 8-years-old.
“They don’t become orphans when their parents die; they become orphans when their parents are dying.”
When answering questions posed by the audience, one student suggested providing all funds in preventative measures rather than trying to help those who already suffer from the disease.
“There’s no reason why we can’t do both,” Lewis said. “Keep hammering away at the government. The political dynamic is the dynamic that needs to be pressed.”
To view Stephen Lewis’ Race Against Time lecture, visit the CSU’s web site at www.csu.qc.ca.