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International News
A Charm Offensive Against AIDS

February 24, 2012

Since he became executive director of UNAIDS in 2009, Michel Sidibe has worked as diplomat, lobbyist, and social change advocate to help fight AIDS globally. He focuses especially on the BRICS countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa -- saying that each is a regional leader.

Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa's health minister, recalled Sidibe worked relentlessly to get Jacob Zuma, the country's new president, to budget more for AIDS treatment and press to lower prices for antiretroviral drugs. "I was new to my office, and this man was just chasing me," Motsoaledi said. By 2010, Zuma had increased the AIDS budget by 30 percent and, along with Sidibe, publicly took an HIV test to promote screening.

Sidibe showed King Goodwill Zwelithini of the Zulus evidence that male circumcision, which the king's ancestor Shaka banned in the 1820s, helps protect men against HIV. In 2010, the king urged all Zulu men to have the operation. More than 75,000 have since done so, said Dr. Zwele Mkhize, KwaZulu-Natal's premier.

Also in Africa, Sidibe has asked leaders to talk about condoms; tell teen girls not to sleep with older men for money; help prostitutes rather than jail them; and curb religious and police discrimination against gays. He encouraged China to address the rapid spread of HIV among gay men and drug users, as well as the HIV risks faced by Chinese workers in Africa and 40 million domestic migrant workers. Many former Soviet satellites still depend on Russia and have similar heroin-driven epidemics, so Sidibe is pushing for methadone and needle-exchange programs.

Four years ago, 250 people were newly infected for every 100 getting treatment globally, and now that is down to 200 to 100. Sidibe gives most of the credit to a combination of factors: the generosity of donors, particularly the United States, and societal and behavioral changes.

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Excerpted from:
New York Times
02.21.2012; Donald G. McNeil Jr.

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