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Stephen Lewis

The AIDS Pandemic in Africa

Date Recorded: Jun 8th, 2005
Recorded At: Canadian Federation of Housing Cooperatives Annual General Meeting, Edmonton, Alberta.
Recorded By: Angela Chang, CKUA
Duration: 58:00

Topic Background

According to the 2004 UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic, between 35 million and 42 million people are living with HIV and AIDS across the world. Nearly 25.5 million of them live on the African continent, where, so far, more than 13 million people have already died from AIDS and 12 million children have lost at least one parent to AIDS.

58% of those aged 15-49 living with the virus are women, and of the 6.2 million people between the ages of 15 and 24 living with HIV/AIDS, 75% are women and girls. Women die in vastly disproportionate numbers.

HIV has been able to spread because, in order to replicate, it exploits one of the most complex areas of human life: our sexual relationships. These relationships in turn are shaped by our knowledge and beliefs, our customs and habits of authority, as well as the basic economics of individual lives.

The prevalence of HIV is different for men and women at different ages, and different for rural and urban populations, it also varies between rich and poor, educated and uneducated, and employed and underemployed.

The spread of HIV has not been uniform- not all countries and not all sectors of society have been equally affected. The AIDS epidemic in Africa is in fact multiple epidemics in multiple places; in some places on the continent it is still in its earliest stages.

In the earlier period of the epidemic globally, the best available treatment was limited to dealing with the opportunistic illnesses that are a consequence of HIV infection. Effective antiretroviral therapy became available in high- income countries from the mid-1990s, but access in Africa was limited to small wealthy population sectors.

The epidemic continues to grow. Faced with a disease that is both deadly and hard to control, many have preferred to deny its existence and to stigmatise those who have the infection. These attitudes, combined with a lack of access to treatment services, help to explain why an estimated 95% of men and women across Africa do not know their HIV status.

Speaker Biography

Stephen Lewis is the Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa for the United Nations and works as a consultant to a number of UN agencies.

He was Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations from 1984-1988, chaired the Committee that drafted the Five-Year UN Program on African Economic Recovery, chaired the first International Conference on Climate Change, and has been a noted radio and television commentator. He has received nineteen honorary degrees from Canadian universities and several journalism and humanitarian awards. He was named a Companion of the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest honour for lifetime achievement, in January 2003, and in 2004, he received the annual United Nations Association in Canada Pearson Medal of Peace for his contribution to international service in fighting AIDS/HIV.

Recently, Mr. Lewis founded the Stephen Lewis Foundation, to help ease the pain of HIV/AIDS in Africa.

For more information about Stephen Lewis visit

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