Personality of the Week: Stephen Lewis

Stephen Lewis is UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa

The former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations, Stephen Lewis dedicates his life today to saving lives in Africa, traveling constantly, organizing conferences, public awareness programmes and staging events to raise funds and begin initiatives to cure what he describes as "carnage" - namely the ravages caused by HIV/AIDS on sub-Saharan Africa.

Not only has Stephen Lewis launched himself into his work selflessly and tirelessly, through his position in the UNO and through his foundation, the Stephen Lewis Foundation, he has also proven inspirational to others, who turn to him for advice when implementing their own programmes.

Lewis is described as a man who takes the time to listen and who communicates effectively, opening people's minds to the problems caused by AIDS and explaining these in simple language which everyone can understand, bringing him friends from the world's richest and most powerful people, down to grass roots level in poverty-stricken African villages.

A typical day for Stephen Lewis might be spent for example among children in Zambia who are AIDS orphans and themselves HIV positive, having been born with the virus and having spent the first years of their lives ravaged by disease and hunger. His mission is to get the children treated with anti-retroviral drugs (only available to those who have above-average incomes in Africa) and educated.

Stephen Lewis believes that by raising public awareness, the complacency which makes the task more difficult can be overcome. He pointed out recently that half a million children in the world need urgent treatment for AIDS-related illnesses and 90% of these live in Africa. He underlines the fact that in 2003, half a million children died of AIDS while 650.000 were infected. In 2004, another half a million children died of AIDS while 750.000 were infected. One million children dead and one million four hundred thousand infected, many of whom do not have a hope of receiving treatment, in just two years.

Moreover, Stephen Lewis states, the quick AIDS tests available for adults are not available for children. "There is no affordable way to ascertain whether HIV antibodies found in children under 18 months of age are their own or their mothers'", he adds.

For Stephen Lewis, "children are witlessly consigned to the coffins of history". However, with the energy and resolve of Stephen Lewis to help them, it is certain that the children at risk of HIV/AIDS have a far better chance of survival.

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Author`s name Olga Savka