African First Ladies Join to Fight AIDS

By Nora Boustany
Friday, September 16, 2005

Forty African first ladies unveiled a unified effort to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa, challenging adults to take responsibility for infection among children and urging them to break their silence on the disease.

The "Treat Every Child as Your Own" campaign also calls for ending the secrecy and stigma that exist about AIDS in Africa, where millions of people are infected and millions have died.

"We belong to a new and different generation," Jeanette Kagame , wife of the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame , said in a telephone interview from New York, where the program was launched on the sidelines of a U.N. summit. "We are all mothers at the end of the day. Most of our countries have embarked on expensive development projects and we would hate to see that progress stalled. The cost in lives has been too high."

Kagame, the chairwoman of the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS, said it was important to challenge people to confront the sensitive topics of life and death in their communities.

Previous awareness campaigns have reached out to the young, but this effort, drawn up with the Center for Communication Programs in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, will appeal to adults to act as "protectors and guardians," explained Michelle Bashin , one of the organizers.

"This program is unique because it draws together 40 African countries that are different but that have the same interest: avoiding HIV infection among youth. Concern is so great that together they decided to do something," Bashin said.

At Johns Hopkins, Bashin helped to devise "unifying themes that are adaptable to local contexts in conversations with children about HIV and their sexuality." The organizers came up with billboards, posters and radio spots that can be modified to fit local customs and can be integrated into programs already underway, she added.

"What we need to do between now and December is work on the follow-up, to see things through," Kagame emphasized, referring to World AIDS Day on Dec. 1. "It would be unfair not to make use of our proximity to decision-makers."

Advocate for Trade Pact

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe called on the United States to focus on a free trade agreement that is slowly being negotiated with Andean countries. "At this juncture, it is very important to pay attention to the free trade agreement between the U.S. and Andean countries and to show more interest on the point that our countries are trying to reach millennium social goals," Uribe told Washington Post columnists and reporters over breakfast yesterday.

Uribe, who spent the day in meetings on Capitol Hill and with other U.S. officials, was scheduled to fly to New York last night to join 150 world leaders for the U.N. summit on what are called Millennium Development Goals. The elimination of trade barriers to help countries reduce poverty and meet fiscal obligations is high on the agenda.

Uribe said he would also urge the United States to help fund the second phase of Plan Colombia, an aid program aimed at crushing an insurgency and the drug trafficking that fuels it.

"At this moment, we have managed to demobilize 17,000 people, 6,000 of them guerrillas and the rest from armed paramilitary groups," he said of a gradual decommissioning program that has come under scrutiny.

"We see a clear reduction," he said, pointing out that when he was elected in 2002, the estimated membership in what he called "terrorist groups" was 50,000.

Venezuelan Coaches Visit

Positive Coaching Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming youth sports into meaningful experiences, sponsored a training workshop in Washington for 10 well-known coaches from Venezuela.

Under the International Leadership Program of the State Department, the Positive Coaching Alliance arranged for the coaches to spend 10 days in the United States observing different organizations and learning new coaching techniques, said Bobby Moran of Positive Coaching Alliance's office in Washington.

The alliance has two objectives: to win the game and to teach life lessons and character-building through sports, according to David Jacobson , a spokesman for the group, which is headquartered at Stanford University.

A workshop for the group on Tuesday in Washington came as tension built up between the United States and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez over the delay in processing visas for members of his personal security detail and medical team assigned to accompany him to New York for the U.N. summit.

"In a time of tension between the U.S. and Venezuelan governments, we are proud to be involved in cultural bridge-building," Jacobson said about the visit.

After Hurricane Katrina, Chavez authorized sending 960,000 barrels of oil to the United States in addition to 1.2 million barrels previously scheduled. He then undermined his goodwill by criticizing President Bush 's handling of the disaster. According to U.S. officials, Venezuela contributed $1 million directly to the Red Cross to help Katrina victims.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company