Stephen Lewis, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for
HIV/AIDS in Africa, is enraged by governments’ failure to pool enough
money for the Global Fund. Tasked with cutting African transmission
rates, the outspoken Canadian also denounced Manto Tshabalala-Msimang,
South Africa’s health minister, for her do-nothing approach. But
there’s still hope, he says, for ending the epidemic. Indeed, Lewis’
bestselling manifesto, Race Against Time (House of Anansi Press,
$15.95), boldly confronts institutional failures and suggests his
reasons for optimism.
In 2001, you said the world was on the brink of stabilizing the epidemic. Did I really say that?
Because I also accused the West of mass murder. But I think that we
will eventually make it. The introduction of treatment in Africa has
created a momentum that cannot be reversed. What’s heartbreaking is the
amount of people who have to die along the way.
How can we eventually “make it”?
If the Western world fulfilled its financial promises, which it never
does, we could treat virtually everyone who needs treatment at no cost
to the person being treated. If Western governments contributed .7% [of
gross national product] to foreign aid, we would make a dent in the
UN’s Millennium Development Goals, including ending AIDS by 2015.
Is there truth to the rumor that your indictment of Bush’s Ugandan abstinence policy has set the administration against you?
The State Department is very displeased. I feel very deeply that
ideology does not have a place in the response to AIDS. Condoms are the
best [tools] we have against the pandemic.
Have you enjoyed being Africa’s point person on AIDS?
All my life I’ve seen advocacy as the central role for social change.
Futility does not lead anywhere. You keep at it till the breakthrough