October 27, 2008
Zambian AIDS activists are decrying the fact that the two top candidates in the country's Oct. 30 presidential election have remained largely silent about how they plan to deal with HIV/AIDS.
More than a million of Zambia's 12 million people are HIV-positive. UN figures show almost 56,000 Zambians died of HIV/AIDS-related causes last year, though activists say an accurate count would likely be higher since many more die unaccounted for due to deeply rooted AIDS stigma.
Yet acting President Rupiah Banda and opposition leader Michael Sata have not spoken about their plans for addressing Zambia's epidemic. "During the election campaign not a single candidate has said what they will do to tackle HIV/AIDS," said Clementina Mumba, chairperson of the AIDS advocacy group Treatment Advocacy and Literacy. She said the main reason for this is HIV/AIDS stigma.
While health officials and Western donors say Zambia has made significant progress in fighting HIV/AIDS, much more needs to be done. Zambians want reassurances that their next leader -- who will replace late President Levy Mwanawasa -- will focus closely on the issue.
The Zambian government says 170,000 HIV/AIDS patients are now receiving free antiretroviral treatment, up from 10,000 in 2003. Around 370,000 people are still in need of the medicines. But Zambians say they need much more than free ARVs. The country's dilapidated health care infrastructure makes living with the disease a constant challenge, they say.
The government reports that hundreds of Zambian nurses have migrated to Western countries seeking better jobs. "The drugs are available in the clinics, but it takes many hours to access them because there are fewer nurses to attend to infected people," said carpenter Joseph Mwila.