Sunday, October 23, 2005

Give this guy a hug

...and about $100 billion to carry out his work. You may have seen a lot about Stephen Lewis, lately. He's doing the 2005 Massey Lecture tour so now everybody wants to talk to him. I hope some people with influence want to pull up a chair and talk to him, too. The U.N. envoy for AIDS in Africa is looking and sounding pretty broken these days. I saw Lewis on TVO last week, talking to that Allan Gregg guy about his book, "Race Against Time." And then there was that huge piece in Saturday's Globe:
"I've often thought to myself that it's possible" -- he pauses for a long time -- "that you need a sturdier emotional psyche than I have. I mean, you know, I just can't take what I see on the ground. I just cannot take it. I am only one person. But I defy anybody to be able to take it over the long term. Because, you know, it's all so unnecessary." His voice drops again to a whisper: "And they're all young women, they're all in their 20s and 30s. You go into a hospice, 25 beds, 23 of them filled by women in their 20s. You can't get the drugs to them in time. You know they're going to die in a matter of months. They all have children. You feel as though everything is out of kilter."
I gathered from both his interview with Gregg and from the Globe piece that Lewis knows exactly who's responsible. And it's a big list. The UN, the G8, the U.S.-strings-attached-aid, the IMF, World Bank loansharks (e.g. insisting poor countries charge school-fees in return for aid) ...and nobody with any kind of real power wants to take-charge and assume leadership. Yes, summits are convened, money is promised, concerts are held and everyone walks around with a bracelet for a few weeks. But all the real action happens at an excrutiatingly slow pace. Drug companies get unhappy. Signatures take ages to turn into cold-hard-cash. Hands are tied and condoms mysteriously disappear from the "ABC" checklist. It must be beyond exasperating to work in this field.

The book is dedicated simply to "the women of Africa." Lewis speaks often of how they bear the brunt of this scourge. He told Gregg that the only way to make meaningful progress is to have strong female representation in the very world-bodies that make the big-decisions.

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