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HIV: a burden one cannot unsee

I'm in a great rage now, as I understand how many lives we have lost, he thought to himself, as he took a flight back home from South Africa. Home had become a toll of guilt for him, every time he took this very flight, away from the desperate need of change, droughts, lack of all things human and unvalued by a good part of people on the other side, in Canada, the idea of home had become too foggy. We would never have an HIV epidemics, he reassured himself. No, they had been relatively lucky. Not on the other side, his side, his home, which came now with the price of privilege.
His last trip had been life-changing, like many others, but this time he was ready to present his book in Canada — Race Against Time— and maybe put some color about the other side, about the HIV epidemics in Africa, the one he would so like to combat systematically, even if as an individual. He had been agitated the whole flight, there was absolutely no message he could deliver in that opening that would fit ten minutes. No time for conversation, too much to say.
And suddenly I’m right here, Stephen Lewis, he reassured himself, as United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, representing my own Foundations, my parents’ well-known political figures’ names, and still unable to find the right words, nor the voice tone, nor a catchy enough hook. Maybe silence would do, he smirked.
“I want to be cautious here, because Africa is a hugely complex continent and you can't really generalize about it”, he started, pausing, underlining where necessary, and continued, “I think when you've travelled around a lot in Africa, you understand something that many people here don't recognize: the extraordinary power that is Africa at village level - at community level”, he looked at his colleagues, journalists across the room, politics and business people, “I don’t think you realize how much we can do to fight HIV as a community, if we, from the other side of the ocean, are ready to be part of this same community”, the room had his undivided attention, “in this book, I tried to tell you in five pieces about the change that can be promoted by us, here, from this very room”. Would it have any effect, he asked himself, one could never begin to imagine, could he really deliver the message?
“I hope that today you realize that the United Nations has a lot of capacity on the ground, but your backup is imperative, whether in research, direct funding, or just spreading the word”, he added, “There is a disturbing distortion of the preventive apparatus ... It is resulting in great damage and undoubtedly will cause significant numbers of infections which should never have occurred”, he was almost running out of time now, “I hope this message in this book, with its voice, reaches you and your potential to fund the necessary aid”. He thanked them, and quickly went to his seat, to blend in.
It gave him hope, this great strength of Africa. Even in that room, he was almost jealous of the people around him who would never experience the need of systematic cooperation he felt, that life-changing feeling of being a Canadian with nothing but great things to do: research, awareness, recruiting the right people, engaging and fighting HIV in a land that was not his, but surely the cause, had become.

Hopefully, that would give him hope, too.


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