Magazine article New African

Michel Sidibe 'We Are Defeating AIDS in Africa': After Two Decades of HIV Running Riot in Africa, the Continent Now Appears to Be Getting on Top of It. This Was Revealed by Dr Michel Sidibe, the Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS) in an Interview with New African's Editor, Baffour Ankomah

Magazine article New African

Michel Sidibe 'We Are Defeating AIDS in Africa': After Two Decades of HIV Running Riot in Africa, the Continent Now Appears to Be Getting on Top of It. This Was Revealed by Dr Michel Sidibe, the Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS) in an Interview with New African's Editor, Baffour Ankomah

Article excerpt

THERE IS GOOD NEWS IN THE air. At the AU Summit in July, African leaders adopted a new roadmap to accelerate the continent's response to three killer diseases: Aids, tuberculosis and malaria. The roadmap, developed by the AU Commission and the NEPAD Agency, with support from UNAIDS, presents a bold and practical approach to a number of persistent challenges facing the continent, including diversifying sources of health financing, improving access to medicines, and pursuing more effective and equitable health governance.

"We are defeating AIDS in Africa, but the fight must be sustainable," Dr Michel Sidibe, the executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS), told New African in an exclusive interview. He, however, warned that "the victory will slip from our hands if we don't address the dependency crisis in Africa and put more effort into HIV research. We should not be dependent on ideas from outside," he added.

"If we can win this one, I can go back home and sit under my mango tree and feel proud," Dr Sidibe, 60, from Mali, had told The New York Times earlier this year. In the New African interview, Dr Sidibe stressed that Africa "cannot make progress if we don't ensure that HIV programmes are owned by the people. We should do away with inequality, and provide access to better medicines and information for all," he added.

Formerly with UNICEF, Dr Sidibe, who is not a physician himself, has worked tirelessly since assuming the UNAIDS executive directorship three years ago. He attributes the success so far achieved to a combination of donor support, and countries taking responsibility for themselves by doubling their efforts against HIV-Aids.

Sidibe was poached from UNICEF by the former UNAIDS Executive Director, Dr Peter Piot, a Belgian. By dint of hard work and extraordinary bonhomie, Sidibe's scorecard now looks so impressive that Dr Piot says: "You can't say no to Michel. I was at a conference in Ethiopia in December [2011], and for the first time, I felt I was hearing 'ownership' of Aids by African countries. They weren't talking about the donors, but about it as their own problem. I think he [Sidibe] had a lot to do with that." In March this year, Sidibe signed a memorandum of understanding, on behalf of UNAIDS, with the African Union's development agency, NEPAD. "This new partnership will bring us one step closer to our goal of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero Aids-related deaths," said Sidibe.

As reported in the New York Times, the Malian with the wonderful smile has delivered difficult messages to African presidents very persuasively: "Convince your men to get circumcised. Tell your teenage girls not to sleep with older men for money. Shelve your squeamishness and talk about condoms. Help prostitutes instead of jailing them. Ask your preachers to stop railing against homosexuals and order your police forces to stop beating them. Let Western scientists test new drugs and vaccines, despite the inevitable rumours that Africans are being used as guinea pigs." Two years ago, Sidibe took his circumcision message to the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini in South Africa, and showed him evidence that circumcision protected men against Aids.

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Zwelithini's great ancestor, King Shaka, had banned circumcision in the 1820s. But now convinced by Sidibe, King Zwelithini ordered his male subjects to be circumcised. To date, according to Dr Zwele Mkhize, the premier of Kwa-Zulu Natal, the Zulu homeland, more than 75,000 men have had the operation. It is through such persuasion that Sidibe is winning hearts and minds in Africa, and indeed globally, against HIV. Over the past decade, 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have seen a decline of more than z5% in new HIV infections. …

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