Peter Piot: "My Objective Was to Politicise Aids". (2002 in Review)

By Dr. Piot, Peter | New African, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Peter Piot: "My Objective Was to Politicise Aids". (2002 in Review)


Dr. Piot, Peter, New African


On 7 July 2002, Dr Peter Plot, executive director of UNAIDS, spoke at the 14th International Aids Conference in Barcelona. "We're approaching the time that politicians will be elected or kicked out of office in function of their performance in terms of Aids", he warned. Below, Piot speaks...

I studied in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, so I spent--when I was in medical school, I think I spent as much time in politics, radical politics, as in studying. And I have always been interested in the social aspects, and in the question why, beyond the molecule, in terms of disease, why are people getting ill, and some are more affected. Why are people poor? How does it affect their behaviour, etc?

My history; or my relationship with HIV goes back to very, very early days, even before Aids was discovered, but I wasn't smart enough to see it was a new thing. We had a few patients coming from--it was then called Zaire, in Central Africa, and who died with something we didn't know what it was. Restrospectively, later in 1985, we could prove it was Aids.

When I started with UNAIDS, I had three objectives. The first was to put Aids on the political agenda. Politicise it.

I was convinced then, and even more today, that anything that is not high on the political agenda of a head of state, the president or prime minister, has no chance of succeeding to be under control in a society, and that only a political movement or activism will generate the pressure that will change institutional behaviour.

Coming from a background as a scientist, where I looked at it as a scientific or public health issue, today I believe that the solution is a political one.

Of course, once the political decisions have been taken, we've got to make sure that it's scientifically sound approaches that are being used, not ideological ones, like sex education works, abstinence is one of the options.

And that fundamentally we will only defeat Aids if we change the norms and values in society about sexuality, homosexuality, the relations between men and women, and that in addition, that there is a movement which would put pressure on those in power to tackle Aids in a serious way to make sure the money is there, the institutions are changed, and that we will make sure that the young generation has all the information and the means to protect themselves.

Secondly, I was also convinced that this epidemic is the biggest epidemic that humankind has ever known, but also that we've got to look for successes. …

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