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Sunday 25 December 2005
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ZIMBABWE: Interview with J. Victor Angelo, UN Humanitarian Coordinator

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

©  irin

There are over 12,000 children living on the street in Zimbabwe

HARARE, 9 July (PLUSNEWS) - HIV/AIDS is the greatest barrier to progress in the developing world, according to the recently released UN Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report 2003.

In a interview, UNDP Resident Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator, J. Victor Angelo, spoke about how the pandemic prevented poor nations from meeting other development goals, and US President George W Bush's trip to Africa.

QUESTION: Of the 8 Millennium Development Goals, it seems that the greatest emphasis is placed on HIV/AIDS. Yet, sub-Saharan Africa has been affected by poverty and hunger for years.

ANSWER: I would say that poverty and hunger cannot be addressed independently of HIV/AIDS. The fact that a country has lost so many workers to sickness and death certainly affects the ability to produce, to trade and to generate national wealth. The virus also affects a nation at a household level, so that people bear greater burdens. They feed and care for more people and often lose people they love. Many families have completely fallen apart.

Conversely, poverty and hunger lead to a state of desperation, so that high-risk behaviour becomes socially acceptable. For example, sex might be traded for money or food, not as a form of prostitution, but simply as a means of survival: "I need to get some rice for my family – for my children – and so I'll do it just this one time." Ironically, it is this means of "survival" that increases the possibility of infection, illness and death. A person might survive hunger, but no one survives AIDS.

Q: It is often said that HIV/AIDS is gender-related. Is this said in reference to this kind of transaction?

A: The HI virus does not discriminate and yet, current infection rates for girls are approximately double those for boys. This suggests that infection is affected by gender-related social patterns and we must, therefore, find out why this is and address the situation appropriately.

One such trend is the one I have described, but there are others. Many women feel less capable of saying no to sex or asking their partners to wear protection. A married woman, for example, might fear that her husband has been unfaithful and is therefore putting her at risk, but you can imagine how awkward it would feel for her to suggest that her own husband use a condom?

Q: Does this mean the infection of women is a greater priority issue?

A: Infection of anyone is a priority issue, but we see many ways in which women are infected. If we can see a pattern, we can also break that pattern. I want to be clear that, in recognising gender aspects, we are not favouring one gender over another. In essence, this kind of awareness is vital to everyone.

We might consider the survival of the family unit as a most critical issue. Each member plays an important role and supports the others in his or her own way. But in the African culture, the woman is often the cement that binds a family together and without her, the entire support system collapses. A survey carried out in two Zimbabwean districts in the year 2000, revealed that 2/3 of households that had lost a key adult female had disintegrated and completely dispersed. What has happened to the other members, then? Where are they? Who is caring for them? There are over 12,000 children living on the street in Zimbabwe.

Q: What are the roles of national and international stakeholders in development. What assistance can they, and should they, offer?

A: The role of Government is critical. We – the UN – stand on a platform of dialogue and cooperation, and the Government of Zimbabwe should be acknowledged in this respect. They have recognised HIV/AIDS as an emergent and priority issue, and have actually adopted it as part of the national strategy.

AIDS Councils have been established at national, provincial, district and ward levels, so that programmes can be implemented and monitored right down to the community level. So, we’ve been able to implement some real innovations - precisely because we are able to see how people really live - and to help them in ways that are relevant to their lives. We now have support groups, so that people are encouraged to be tested and to share their emotional burdens with others. We have sex workers who are teaching their clients to wear condoms, and we have programmes to teach children how to avoid contracting HIV. Some of these are very small-scale initiatives – but they make a very big difference.

Q: And the international stakeholders?

A: Developed countries have had obvious advantages in controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS. Communication infrastructures exist, whereby people are easily informed and educated in HIV prevention, and those who are infected have access to nutritious foods, proper health care and drugs that minimise the effects of opportunistic infections. These conditions do not exist in sub-Saharan Africa and the virus has not been controlled. But this does not mean that Africa is a lost cause. It means that external players must be willing to understand the very particular context.

If I could ask for one thing of the international community, it would be for optimism. As an example, I would applaud US President George Bush for what has been a most dramatic change.

It is not very often that we see American presidents taking the time to go to Africa. And one might have expected that President Bush would have been even less inclined to do so. Just three years ago, he considered Africa a "low" foreign policy priority. We have now seen a shift. There is now a realisation that partnerships can be built, but that these partnerships will require long-term investment and will begin with the struggle against AIDS.

This same President now calls Africa a continent with "great potential" and has met, personally, with many African leaders. He has made significant increases in financial allocations and has authorised US$ 15 billion to fight HIV/AIDS abroad. Regardless of what has been said by some of his critics, I want to commend President Bush, because he has not only asserted that there is hope for Africa, he has bet on it.

The above interview was conducted by UNDP in Zimbabwe.


Recent ZIMBABWE Reports
Prevention campaigns successful as HIV rate drops,  8/Dec/05
AIDS orphans and vulnerable children bear the brunt of collapsing economy,  15/Nov/05
Greater focus urged on protection of children from HIV,  26/Oct/05
Teachers urge free ARVs as AIDS thins their ranks,  14/Oct/05
HIV/AIDS drop - behavioural change or skewed statistics?,  10/Oct/05
Le portail d'informations générales de la Côte d’Ivoire
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
Mothers and HIV/AIDS

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