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South African Press Association
Politicians Don't Understand Sex: Mr Condom

August 30, 2002
One of the reasons Aids was such a low priority at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) was possibly that it had to do with sex, and a lot of political leaders did not understand sex, UNAids ambassador Mechai Viravaidya said on Friday.

Viravaidya, nicknamed "Mr Condom" in his home country Thailand, also said President Thabo Mbeki, not his deputy Jacob Zuma, should be heading South Africa's national Aids council.

Speaking in Johannesburg at the summit, where leaders have been criticised for not putting the pandemic higher on the agenda, he said politicians making decisions on Aids policy should be people who had sex, enjoyed sex and did not deny it existed.

"They are embarrassed by the condom when in fact they should be embarrassed by Nike (running shoes) because there's more rubber in Nike.

"We've got to face the facts that unless we teach people about sexuality, proper understanding, and the only lifeaver we have is the condom, then you can't get very far.

"So at least leaders probably have to start using condoms and understanding it (sex) better."

Viravaidya, who has served in the Thai cabinet, and has played a major role in his country's innovative anti-Aids programmes, said there were also many leaders who simply did not deserve to be leaders.

"So if we get rid of them and work harder we might have (success) at the next summit... Stop this denial: we are allowing so many people to die unnecessarily."

He also said every country needed its prime minister or president to head its national Aids co-ordinating body "because it's a bigger fight than any of us have ever fought".

This had happened in every country that had made a difference in the battle against the disease, including his own.

"I call on all leaders who wish... to be remembered as leaders to chair their national Aids committee."

Aids was "total war", and could not be beaten by any one department or ministry.

"And so you have to have everyone involved. Health is important, but on the prevention side, the economic side you need other ministries.

"And the only person who can order different ministries around is the prime minister. So he or she, or president, needs to chair the Aids issue."

Asked about South Africa, where Zuma chairs the low-profile National Aids Council, Viravaidya said: "Well, maybe ask the president to sit in on it, and let him become chair: he'll probably enjoy more and do more good."

UNAids director Peter Piot said he was disappointed that the issue of fighting Aids as a central part of promoting sustainable development was not getting more attention at the summit.

"It was certainly there in the initial text, but it got watered down," he said. Addressing a plenary on Friday morning, he said Aids was the shadow that hung over all the summit's deliberations.

"If we continue to allow Aids to drain human resources at an increasing rate, sustainable development will be impossible. Quite simply, if you don't survive, you cannot develop."

This crisis would not only significantly undermine progress towards sustainable development, but would even "underdevelop" some of the worst affected countries.

By the most basic measure of development -- life expectancy -- Aids had already erased 50 years of progress in the worst-affected countries.



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