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Lions Roar : March 2006
r<) o o N z o E--< p::: ÇQ Q Z p::: ÇQ --- p., >-< ÇQ o E--< o ::r: p., Lewis visiting a World Vision project in Zimbabwe, where the prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS is close to 25 percent and almost one million children have been orphaned because of HIV/ AIDS. Canadians, and he seldom turns down an invitation to speak at high schools and universities. "The most valuable experience for the job for me was poli- tics, not diplomacy," he says. "I've learned the value of research, the value of issuing statements, the value of having press brief- ings. All of these things are, by and large, foreign to the UN. I've learned how you cast an issue in a way that will get people to care about it and respond to it. Speaking is my vocation. Advocacy became the central feature, so that I could take what I learned in Africa to public platforms in North America and Europe. I have called on my political inheritance for this job, and that has served me best, far and away." It is no mean inheritance. His father David was national lead- er of Canada's social democratic New Democratic Party in the 1970's. Stephen Lewis was first elected to the legislature of On- tario, Canada's most populous province, at age 2S, and led the Ontario NDP from 1970 to 1978, the last three years as leader of the official opposition. Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mul- roney appointed him Canada's ambassador to the UN in 1984, a post he served in until 1988. He was subsequently named the UN secretary-general's special adviser on African economic re- covery, deputy executive director of UNICEF, and a member of the Organization for African Unity's international panel on the Rwandan genocide. In 2001, he became AIDS envoy to Africa, the first of four global AIDS envoys appointed by Kofi Annan. Will he be fired? Not likely. The UN came to his defense against the Ameri- cans. As for his criticism of the UN, everyone is doing it these days, both inside and outside of the organization. Does he see hope in the pandemic? Says Lewis: "I don't have a lot of optimism about over-com- ing the gender inequality, which I think is the greatest single horror of the pandemic, that incredible disproportion of vul- nerability. They talk about behavior change among men, but that's a couple of generations away, and the women are dying now. You don't have time. You have to empower the women. You have to move on laws on property rights and inheritance rights and against sexual violence and focus on girls and their rights and respect for them." A vaccine, he says, at the very least is still ten years away. But a microbicide-a vaginal gel-is likely closer, perhaps as little as four years off, and "that means women can take control of their own sexuality because the partner need never know the gel or cream has been applied and the woman can therefore resist the virus. This can save millions of women's lives." And Lewis says the program known as Three-by-Five- three million AIDS sufferers receiving treatment by 200S-is the single most dramatic intervention of the past several years. Although the target won't be met (fewer than two million are receiving treatment), the fact that there are now goals has pro- vided a large stimulus to hope. But in sum, it is not much. As Lewis writes: "My own view is that the horrendous toll is yet to come. Countries will be fighting for survival in ten or fifteen years down the road. It's simply impossible to tear the productive generations out of the heart of a country without facing an incomparable crisis. "I'll devote every fiber of my body to defeating this viral contagion, but I cannot abide the willful inattention of so much of the international community. I cannot expunge from my mind the heartless indifference, the criminal neglect of the last decade, during which time countless people have gone to their graves-people who should still be walking the open savanna of Africa. "I'm not some sweet innocent. I'm 68 years old. I've learned something about politics, diplomacy, and multilateralism. I thought I understood the way the world works. I don't." . SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2006 71