African AIDS Summit opens in Abuja

Abuja- Nigeria (PANA) -- The African Summit on AIDS, Tuberculosis and Other Related Infectious Diseases opened in Abuja Thursday with several African Heads of State, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former US President Bill Clinton attending.
As organisers awaited the arrival of more leaders, those at the opening session included host President Olusegun Obasanjo, Togolose President and OAU Chairman Gnassingbe Eyadema, Malian President and ECOWAS Chairman Oumar Alpha Konare and Arap Moi of Kenya.
Others were Presidents Moammar Kadhafi of Libya, Sam Nujoma of Namibia, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso and John Kuffour of Ghana.
Former Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings and President of the 55th session of the UN General Assembly Harry Kurikeri are also attending, and so are top officials of UN agencies like WHO Director-General Gro Brundtland and UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy.
The two-day Summit, organised by the OAU to forge a common strategy against HIV/AIDS, which has devastated the continent, took off on a dramatic but surreal note, as the grim realities of the disease were brought home to those in attendance by a drama piece entitled "The Victim.
" Nigerian Health Minister Alphonsus also showed the audience a number of People Living With AIDS (PLWAs).
They included Ibekwe Angela, an Accountant who discovered her HIV-positive status when she was compelled to undergo a test before her wedding, and Olabiyi Matimilola, a medical doctor.
One of the PLWAs, Mohammed Farouk, urged the summiteers to turn "consensus to action," and called on the society to stop discriminating against infected people.
"We are not victims but people living with HIV/AIDS," he said.
"For us, AIDS means Africa is destined to survive.
" Demonstrating that the disease has disproportionately targeted young people more than any other group, Abayomi Mighty, 17, held the crowd spellbound with his presentation, which evoked strong reactions from the leaders.
Mighty, who said he represented the nine million children who have lost their parents to AIDS, said though he was happy to be speaking to Heads of State, he was quite sad to note the devastating effect of the disease on youths across Africa.
"The millions of children that I represent do not have enough information about HIV/AIDS," he said while calling for the dissemination of more information on the disease.
He also sought increased allocation of resources to efforts to enable young people acquire skills that could get them gainfully employed and the need to protect infected young people.
The Summit, which was preceded by a two-day Ministerial session to prepare the draft Abuja Declaration on HIV/AIDS, as well as a draft Plan of Action and the draft Mechanism for Implementation, is to underscore the fact that leadership, commitment, resources and poverty alleviation are critical factors in the control of infectious diseases in Africa.
During the meeting, the leaders are expected to develop and concretise policies, strategies and structures to ensure adequate control of the diseases, and also develop processes and procedures to ensure higher degree of political commitment at controlling the impact of the diseases.

26 april 2001 14:21:00

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