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AFRICA: Leaders go public with the test

Photo: The Presidency
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma is the latest to go public with his HIV status
Nairobi/Johannesburg, 3 May 2010 (PlusNews) - South African President Jacob Zuma recently launched one of the most ambitious voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) campaigns in history by disclosing his HIV-negative status. Ministers and provincial premiers have been following his example, but politicians in Africa have not always been so forthcoming. IRIN/PlusNews charts the history of who has and has not stepped up for "the prick".

2001 – Botswana President Festus Mogae became one of the first to be publicly tested for HIV and encouraged ministers and parliamentarians to do the same.

2002 –  Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda made headlines with his public test and, like Mogae, used the opportunity to rally others to follow suit. Kaunda lost a son to HIV-related complications in the 1980s and later founded the Kenneth Kaunda Children of Africa Foundation, which runs schools for children orphaned by AIDS.

2004 – Malawian President Bakili Muluzi publicly acknowledged being tested for HIV and losing a brother to AIDS-related illnesses.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni declined to be tested, but a few months later 12 Ugandan parliamentarians participated in a national testing campaign called, "It's better to know".

On World AIDS Day, several high-profile Ethiopians volunteered to be tested, including Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's wife, Azeb Mesfin, who revealed that her husband had also been tested, State Minister for Finance and Economy Mulu Ketsala, and US Ambassador Aurelia Brazeal.

2006 – South African Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge suggested President Thabo Mbeki take a public test, according the UK-based newspaper, the Sunday Telegraph. Madlala-Routledge denied singling out Mbeki but said leaders should set an example. Many speculated that her dismissal a year later was tied to clashes over HIV/AIDS with the Mbeki administration, including controversial Health Minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

US Senator Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, were tested in Kisumu, capital of Nyanza Province, Kenya, where Obama's father was born. "If a United States senator can get tested, anyone can get tested," he was reported to have said at the time.

On World AIDS Day Sudanese Vice President Dr Riek Machar stepped up to be tested in the hope of boosting VCT uptake; just one percent of southern Sudanese have been tested. In Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo did the same.

2007 –  At the start of a national HIV testing campaign in July, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and his wife, Prime Minister Edward Lowassa and his wife, several other ministers, 100 members of parliament, and many other public figures were tested. An estimated 4.1 million Tanzanians were reached in six months as part of the campaign.

2010South Africa launches a campaign that aims to test 15 million people in about 13 months. President Jacob Zuma reveals the results of his fourth HIV test.


Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews),

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

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