PRESS CONFERENCE BY PRESIDENT OF SENEGAL
At a Headquarters press conference this morning, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal said that experience in his country had shown that initiatives aimed at increasing awareness could strengthen the effectiveness of strategies to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS. He added that Senegal had acted early on many fronts to control the spread of the virus. Those efforts, coupled with awareness-raising campaigns, had kept the country’s HIV prevalence rate among the lowest in Africa.
Introduced by Mr. Shashi Tharoor, Acting Director of the Department of Public Information (DPI), President Wade said Senegal had excellent results in limiting and preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. The country had taken early steps to involve youth, women and religious leaders, particularly Imams, in its efforts. By expanding the scope of those efforts to include broad initiatives to raise awareness to the risks and dangers of the disease, Senegal had greatly improved on its earlier progress. He added that awareness-raising was the key element in Senegal’s achievements.
President Wade said his country would not rest on its laurels, however. It would continue to update and adjust its programmes and policies to fight the disease as it spread, particularly in light of the new strains of HIV that had been recently discovered. He emphasized his belief that poverty had no relationship to the spread of the disease. Battling poverty did not mean the same thing as battling AIDS. Indeed, the prevalence in Senegal was much lower than that of many countries with access to far greater resources. He reiterated that creating awareness was the critical element to combating the spread of HIV, and even the poor could and should be made aware of its dangers.
President Wade said that Senegal’s Omega Plan would serve as the nucleus of Africa’s new development plan, with health aspects given priority. The Plan’s HIV/AIDS initiatives would be developed regionally at first, and then expanded to subregions and eventually the entire continent. There were several issues that needed to be considered as the Plan got under way, particularly whether allocation of resources should focus on most affected areas or on countries that were less affected, in order to limit the spread of the disease. It was his view that, if possible, resources should be allocated to cover both those issues. Another issue would be how to reconcile migration habits with efforts to control the spread of the disease.
A correspondent asked what Senegal or other African nations were expecting from the global fund being established to finance the fight against HIV/AIDS. President Wade introduced Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Senegal’s Minister of Health and Prevention, who said it was estimated that $7 to $10 billion dollars was needed on a global level, but each country had its own requirements. Senegal had developed a strategic plan -- mainly focused on prevention -- which had estimated yearly costs at around $5 million. Additional funds would be needed to enhance the country’s research capabilities and treatment initiatives. She acknowledged that the cost of the country’s specific needs had perhaps been under-estimated, particularly since even more funds would be required as the programme expanded to outlying rural areas.
Another correspondent wondered if Senegal had explored ways in which traditional medical practices could be used to fight HIV/AIDS. Ms. Coll-Seck said that, indeed, the Government had been attempting to find ways to enhance its cooperation with traditional practitioners on possible treatments for a wide range of ailments. At present there were groups of traditional healers working to support various public health initiatives. She acknowledged that more needed to be done with traditional practitioners on AIDS. Part of the difficulty had been that many healers preferred to work alone. But at the same time there had been many reports of discoveries in the area of AIDS, not only in Senegal but throughout the continent. She added that the World Heath Organization (WHO) had established an initiative with traditional medical practitioners.
A correspondent asked President Wade if he had discussed his country’s HIV/AIDS strategy with other African leaders, including Olesegun Obesanjo of Nigeria and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. He said he had met with those leaders to discuss ways of working together, particularly regarding the genesis of the Omega Plan. He said that there were general concerns about HIV testing, immigration and broader issues, but the leaders agreed that the momentum of their positive discussions should be built on at the upcoming Summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), scheduled to be held in Lusaka next month. He added that it would be important for all initiatives to be based on regional and subregional specifications.
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