Ethiopia needs external help fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic

Ethiopia has taken crucial steps to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic, but the east African country urgently needs external assistance if its efforts are to meet with success, a senior United Nations official said today.

Just back from a visit to Africa's second most populous country, Stephen Lewis, the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, said some 2 million to 3 million people of the nearly 70 million living in Ethiopia are infected with the virus.

Stressing the need to assist the nation, he said the Government is seeking $400 million from the Global Fund on AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. "The possibilities of widespread treatment in Ethiopia hang on the availability of resources," he stressed.

On the positive side, he said Ethiopians are embracing HIV testing and counselling. The UN Development Programme has also initiated "community conversations" on the once-taboo topics of HIV/AIDS, female genital mutilation, bride sharing, polygamy, child marriage, condoms and women's rights.

Mr. Lewis also urged action to assist the roughly 1 million Ethiopian children orphaned by AIDS. "They are on the verge of a tremendous crisis," he warned, voicing particular concern about the children's lack of access to education due to unaffordable school fees.

He also drew attention to the larger need for universal free primary education. "I've asked publicly countless times why it isn't possible to launch a continent-wide campaign to abolish fees," he said. "I fail to see why we should all stand by while children are denied their childhood and their prospects for the future."

"A school would put orphan children in regular contact with adults again, restore a sense of self-worth, provide a place of security, perhaps offer a meal at lunch, and ignite the wonders of friendship," he said.


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