[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]
LUSAKA - Advocacy groups in Zambia are
forcing HIV/AIDS issues onto the agenda in the run-up to this
month's general election.
"All election candidates should make clear their personal
commitment to tackling HIV and AIDS because we want Zambian
politicians to take a leading role in fighting the HIV/AIDS
pandemic. We want them to tell us what they will do about the
pandemic if we elect them to office, because they should
recognise that HIV is as much an election issue as a better
economy or improved education," said Felix Mwanza, project
manager of Treatment Advocacy and Literacy Campaign (TALC), a
About one in five sexually active Zambian adults are infected, or
1.6 million of a population of 10 million, but only 60,000 people
have access to antiretroviral (ARV) medication.
Zambians living with HIV/AIDS have distributed 10,000
questionnaires among the electorate and to all the roughly 1,200
candidates standing for presidential, parliamentary and local
government seats in the September 28 election.
"We shall ensure that all candidates, starting from the
presidential ones right down to the ward councillors, complete
these questionnaires. Then we shall use their own comments and
commitments to make the electorate decide who to vote for, and we
are confident it will work out because we are represented in
every community, and all our partner organisations and support
groups are already on the ground," Mwanza told IRIN.
Candidates are asked how many people are infected with the
disease in the communities they hope to represent, and about
their contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The questionnaire campaign has borrowed from an initiative
started last month by the Citizens Forum, which demands that all
candidates sign social contracts with their communities,
outlining priority areas for development.
Critics said the questionnaires and social contracts were not
legally enforceable and for all their good intentions might have
little or no influence on winning candidates once they assumed
"It will not be a case of waiting until after the election - we
are able to tell someone's commitment easily from their answers
in these questionnaires," said Mwanza. "Candidates who don't
complete them will not even stand any chance of making it, as HIV
is a national issue and every voter either has someone with HIV
or has been affected by it in some way."