Why We’re Here

By Maria Di Mento '03 / July / August 2004
June 15th, 2007
At an April 24 campus discussion on the U.S. response to the spread of HIV/AIDS, Stephen Lewis, the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, gave the crowd a graphic reminder of the carnage the virus has caused on a continent like Africa. He said that, during the Rwandan genocide of just ten years ago, AIDS was even used as a weapon.

“One of the unhappiest legacies of that horrific moment in time,” he said, “was the numbers of women who were systematically raped as a deliberate way of transmitting the virus, and who are now living and dying with full-blown AIDS.”

The Canadian Ambassador to the UN from 1984 to 1988, Lewis was attending a three-day AIDS forum called “Provoking Hope: A Brown University HIV/AIDS Symposium.” Lewis said that 40 million people worldwide now live with HIV; 14 million African children under age fifteen have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

“You see, children don’t become orphans when their parents die, they become orphans while their parents are dying. They wash their mothers, they look for food for their mothers, and then they stand and watch their mothers die.”

At least $15 million is needed by 2007 to fight AIDS globally, Lewis said, and even with the funds President George W. Bush has promised, much more money needs to be found if we are to break the pandemic.

U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee ’75, who recently introduced a bill for support of AIDS orphans, said he traveled through Ghana and Haiti and concluded that those countries are capable of treating AIDS patients with proper funding. First, he said, that money has to be secured, something that is not easy in today’s political climate. And even once the money is appropriated, he added, “The challenge is to get the brave souls willing to tromp around the continents and do the good work.”

Len Rubenstein, executive director of Physicians for Human Rights, concluded the meeting by saying, “I don’t want everyone to leave thinking we just had a nice talk. I want you to leave thinking there’s a way for the voices from this community to be heard. That’s why we’re here.”

—Maria Di Mento ’03

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July / August 2004