"When one part of the human family is under siege, the privileged part must respond."
This was Stephen Lewis’ clarion call for the world to wake up to the reality of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa.
It’s been 30 years since the start of the pandemic; in the span of history, 30 years seems hardly worth a mention. But in the span of the AIDS pandemic, 30 years is a generation lost.
The numbers can be overwhelming — 30 million have died of AIDS globally; 35 million people are currently living with HIV, and of those, 24 million live in sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 60 per cent of them women. Meanwhile, only seven million people in sub-Saharan Africa are on treatment and almost 15 million children have been orphaned by the disease.
But, numbers don’t tell another side of the story.
On the front lines of the pandemic, all across Africa, grassroots organizations are standing together as leaders in their communities. They are breaking the stranglehold of silence and stigma, and providing essential health, education and housing support to people living with HIV and AIDS. They are forming networks and mentorships to turn the tide of AIDS at the community level.
From home-based health care to support of grandmothers and the orphaned children in their care, from feeding programs to music and art therapy that enable children to express and manage their grief, from income-generation initiatives to community libraries — grassroots organizations are driving the response to the AIDS pandemic in ways that are innovative, sophisticated and effective.
These courageous organizations have shown they are the experts, leading the way. But, they cannot — and should not — do it alone.
The Stephen Lewis Foundation is proud to be their partners. In 10 years, we’ve distributed more than $84 million to more than 300 organizations in 15 countries, involving tens of thousands of women, men and children, in scores upon scores of communities.
In Canada, the Stephen Lewis Foundation has been supported by more than 100,000 Canadians who make individual donations, take part in the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, organize fundraising events in their schools and communities, and participate through their unions.
But, 30 years into the pandemic, HIV and AIDS has fallen off the international and Canadian radar. Both governments and media now focus almost entirely on the global economic recession, political instability and the omnipresent threat of terrorism. A human crisis of this magnitude, however, should not be pushed off the front page. Thirty years into the pandemic and it’s time to put the AIDS pandemic back on the Canadian agenda and re-engage the concern of Canadians, young and old.
That’s why the Stephen Lewis Foundation is bringing three front line African experts to be part of the Solidarity Tour this month, with its first stop in Winnipeg Saturday. The tour provides a forum for our African partners to tell their stories, share their expertise and talk about their challenges and triumphs in dealing with the ravages of AIDS in their communities and workplaces.
Please join us. See what the face of change looks like from front line African experts. Share in the exchange of ideas and experiences. Together, we can put the AIDS pandemic back on the agenda in Canada.
The Winnipeg launch of the Solidarity Tour begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Centennial Hall, University of Winnipeg.
Janet Solberg is a senior adviser with the Stephen Lewis Foundation.