When Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni decided it was time for African leaders to break their silence about the AIDS epidemic, he evoked tradition: When danger approaches, he told them, village leaders beat their drums to send out a warning.
Nelson Musoba, a Ugandan physician devoted to fighting the disease, remembered that the president told his countrymen and leaders of neighboring countries that the scourge of AIDS was at their doorstep, threatening the lives of men, women and children, "and about that, you cannot keep quiet."
Museveni's early efforts in the fight against HIV-AIDS have been commended. But his more recent assertion that the HIV rate actually increased in Uganda when condoms became more widely available has proved less laudable.
"The correct approach is ABC," he told Washington Post editors and reporters last week, referring to Uganda's three-pronged approach in fighting the epidemic: Abstain, Be faithful, use a Condom. "Abstain. If you cannot do the first, try for the second, and only as a last resort, go for the third. If you don't have a condom, why should you commit suicide?" he said.
When efforts to combat the epidemic began in the 1980s and more condoms were being handed out, he said, the prevalence of HIV went up. "People relaxed the rule of abstinence," he said, adding that the dramatic drop in his country's HIV rate has primarily resulted from abstinence.
Museveni's recent argument has raised some brows among health professionals.
"I don't think you can attribute the reduction to one single strategy, or cause," commented Musoba, who heads the Action Group for Health, Human Rights and HIV/AIDS.
Musoba acknowledged government success in "laying down a good plan, strategy and health policy. . . . Abstinence has helped, and so has the open discussion promoted in schools via the printed word and audiovisual materials, as has the availability of condoms."
The number of Ugandans with HIV has fallen from 33 percent to 7 percent this year, said Musoba, who also works as a consultant for the Ministry of Health.
He is here to help lobby Congress to approve $600 million to help in the fight against AIDS. Some of the money will go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which was set up through a U.N. initiative three years ago. Musoba said the $3.5 billion that has already been approved was vital to curbing the epidemic in Africa, where in many countries the percentage of HIV-infected people has reached double digits.
The greatest challenge in Uganda, he said, is the scarcity of resources. Musoba has supervised health care facilities with 50,000 patients but only one or two doctors.
"The pay is so low that 100 of 200 graduating doctors leave Uganda each year. We are looking for ways to keep well-trained health care professionals at home," he added.
Finnish Ambassador Jukka Valtasaari announced that nominations for the country's Millennium Technology Prize, a $1.2 million honor awarded every other year, will be finalized in four weeks.
The award was inaugurated in 2004 to celebrate innovations that have improved the quality of life and moved technology closer to people. The first prize was awarded to Tim Berners-Lee, a Briton who developed the World Wide Web. Berners-Lee never made a dime from his invention, Valtasaari said at a dinner Monday night at his contemporary-style embassy.
Jaakko Ihamuotila, chairman of the Millennium Prize Foundation, said the prize was created not only to recognize innovations but also to help provide answers through technology to the challenges of the times, in health, environment and other areas.
"Our prize is unique because it has an international selecting committee and any nationality is eligible," he said.
The winner will be announced in June 2006, just as Finland takes over the presidency of the European Union. The award ceremony will be held that September in Helsinki.
Finland is thriving as a leader in technology. The country has increased its information technology income by 20 percent a year and its productivity by 10 percent as a result, Valtasaari said. "The story is not over. We owe somebody something," he said.
A New Ambassador
Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the ruler of Oman, issued a decree Tuesday designating Huneina Bin Ahmed Al Mughairia as his choice for ambassador to Washington.
She will become Oman's second female ambassador; Khadija Allawati was appointed to the Netherlands in 1999.