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G8 must honour its AIDS commitments: Lewis

Delivered aid only 60 percent of promised levels; Canada takes part of the blame

A panel of HIV/AIDS advocates and experts gathered in Toronto yesterday to discuss the G8 countries’ commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Among the event’s speakers were Siphiwe Hlope, founder and director of Swaziland Positive Living (SWAPOL) and Stephen Lewis, former UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.

The ire was palpable as each guest spoke of what Lewis calls the “ravenous carnage of AIDS.” in Africa.

Nicci Stein, a former interim executive director of The 519 , denounced the G8’s apathy in the face of the HIV/AIDS crisis. She condemned the countries for not fulfiling commitments such as that made to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and that made at the 2005 Gleneagles G7 Summit, where each country pledged 0.7% of its Gross National Income (GNI) to Official Development Assistance (ODA).

“The amount of money spent on security for these summits is equal to the amount required of Canada to ensure full and sufficient funding of the Global Fund for 3 years”, said Stein.

Stephen Lewis delivered the morning’s most poignant speech. In a fiery sermon, the former Canadian Ambassador to the UN slammed the G8 for falling short of the $25 billion they committed in 2005 to the AIDS crisis in Africa.

Lewis says that G8 countries have come up roughly $9.8 billion short, or by almost 40 percent of the amount they pledged.

“The cutbacks have become disastrous in places that HIV positive pregnant women are being turned away as are people so sick that they are coming to the hospital in wheel barrels”, said Lewis.

Although visibly enraged by the G8’s refusal to fulfill their terms of their agreement, Lewis says it “comes as no surprise” to him.

“This background is to underscore the betrayal of Africa, to which the G8 is congenitally addicted”, he lamented.

Richard Elliot, Executive Director of The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (CHALN), stressed the urgency of providing adequate medicine to people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa. He was particularly concerned about Canada’s Access to Medicine Regime (CAMR) which Parliament passed in 2004 with unanimous support.

Due to the “cumbersome” bureaucratic procedures involved in providing generic versions of patented drugs to foreign countries, the endeavour has provided but one country, Rwanda, with treatment for 20,000 people for one year. In the words of Elliot, it was a “laudable but failed initiative.”

Participants blame inaction on the part of the G8 countries on a number of factors, namely the economic recession – a sentiment echoed by Stephen Lewis.

 “For those weeping willows who use the financial crisis as the mother of all excuses, just pause a moment to think of corporate bailouts and bonuses”, he urged.

Speaking to Xtra, Richard Elliot says the enemy is less obvious.

“Racism” he says with certainty. ”They are just lives that don’t matter as much.  Can you imagine the toll of death that is happening in Africa happening in this country?  It’s about whose lives matter most”.

Echoing the point made by Nicci Stein (“If there is one major barrier to achieving universal access, it is stigma, and the resulting discrimination”), Elliot says the biggest blockade to progress is not a lack of funds or political will, but simply stigma associated with people with AIDS.

“When the AIDS epidemic first hit, it was gay men, it was drug users. It took years and years to get it on the agenda of decision makers because they weren’t lives that matter,” insists Elliot.“ I think it’s the same story on a larger scale.”