||Gabriel ADEYEMO [ profile ]
A charm offensive against AIDS
Feb 24th, 2012 - 21:26:54
SOURCE:* New York Times*
AUTHOR: Donald McNeil Jr.
Fellow Advocate! Read the wonderful story of the UNAIDS Executive Director
and a personal friend.
Shortly after Michel Sidibe became executive director of the United
Nations' AIDS prevention agency, a court in Senegal sentenced nine gay men,
all AIDS educators, to eight years in prison for "unnatural acts." In one
of his first moves as the new chief of U.N.AIDS, Mr. Sidibe flew to Senegal
to ask its aging president, Abdoulaye Wade, to pardon the men. Mr. Sidibe,
the son of a Muslim politician from Mali and a white French Catholic, asked
the president -- who is married to a white French woman -- if he had ever
suffered discrimination. "Oh, Sidibe, you have no idea," came the reply.
"And for not marrying a Muslim." "Then, Uncle," Mr. Sidibe said, using the
African way to politely address an older man, "Why do you accept that men
here are put in jail for eight years just for being gay?" Mr. Wade thought
about it and promised to call his justice minister. Shortly afterward, the
charges were dropped...
Mr. Sidibe, 59, is a former relief worker, rather than a physician, and,
along with English and French, he speaks West African Mandingo, the
Tamashek of the Tuaregs and other languages. With a combination of bonhomie
and persistence, he has delivered difficult messages to African presidents
very persuasively in his three years in office: 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 rumors that Africans are
being used as guinea pigs...
Thanks, in part, to Mr. Sidibe's intensive lobbying, South Africa and China
are rapidly revising their approaches to the epidemic, and he hopes Russia
and India soon will too. And the notoriously conservative African Un ion
has created a committee to help populations it previously ignored:
homosexuals, prostitutes and drug abusers.
Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa's health minister, said Mr. Sidibe
pursued him relentlessly at a United Nations conference in New York until
they met. They became co-conspirators in getting Jacob Zuma, the country's
new president, to budget more money for AIDS drugs and to press drug
companies to lower prices... Mr. Sidibe then pursued Mr. Zuma. When the two
finally talked, Mr. Sidibe said, he appealed both to Mr. Zuma's sense of
social justice and to his vanity, telling him the lives saved would be his
In a major speech in 2010, Mr. Zuma increased the national AIDS budget by
30 percent and, along with Mr. Sidibe, publicly took an AIDS test. Thirteen
million South Africans have done so, and nearly 500,000 people are getting
treatment. Mr. Sidibe also met with King Goodwill Zwelithini of the Zulus,
one of South Africa's largest tribes, to give him evidence that
circumcision -- which the king's ancestor Shaka had banned in the 1820s --
protected men aga inst AIDS. In 2010, the king ordered all Zulu men --
perhaps five million -- to have the operation. They aren't legally required
to obey, but more than 75,000 have done so, said Dr. Zwele Mkhize, the
premier of KwaZulu-Natal, the Zulu homeland.
Click on the link above to read full story, I am so proud and impressed at
the grassroot advocacy Michel Sidibe is known for.
Yours' in Prevention Science
Regional Focal Point - West Africa
Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AID (GYCA), a program of the Public Health
+234-80-6798-7317 | gabriel (at) gyca.org
www.gyca.org | www.phi.org
GYCA is a youth-led global network of over 6,500 young leaders and adult
allies working on youth and HIV/AIDS in 173 countries world-wide. GYCA's
mission is to empower young leaders with the skills, knowledge, resources
and opportunities they need to scale up HIV/AIDS interventions amongst
*My United Nations Pledge 2011-2012: "To lend my wit and my strength to the
AIDS Response guiding global youth towards one goal: Zero HIV: Zero AIDS
Related Deaths, Zero New Infections, Zero Stigma"*