22 February 2012
Tim Siegenbeek van Heukelom

Michel Sidibé’s Charm Offensive Against AIDS

Pacific Friends is looking forward to welcome to Australia next month UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé. In 2010 we already had the pleasure of a visit by Michel in which he spoke about the challenges and responses to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.

This year’s Australian visit of the executive director comes just after The New York Times featured this week a wonderful article that chronicles Michel Sidibé’s so-called ‘charm offensive against AIDS’.


Michel Sidibe: A video interview with the executive director of UNAIDS on the importance of diplomacy and social change in fighting the AIDS epidemic. Source: The New York Times

Some excerpts from the not-to-be-missed article on The New York Times website:

With a combination of bonhomie and persistence, he has delivered difficult messages to African presidents very persuasively in his three years in office: Convince your men to get circumcised. Tell your teenage girls not to sleep with older men for money. Shelve your squeamishness and talk about condoms. Help prostitutes instead of jailing them. Ask your preachers to stop railing against homosexuals and order your police forces to stop beating them. Let Western scientists test new drugs and vaccines, despite the inevitable rumors that Africans are being used as guinea pigs.

Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa’s health minister, said Mr. Sidibe pursued him relentlessly at a United Nations conference in New York until they met. They became co-conspirators in getting Jacob Zuma, the country’s new president, to budget more money for AIDS drugs and to press drug companies to lower prices. “I was new to my office, and this man was just chasing me,” Dr. Motsoaledi said. “He insisted South Africa must take leadership on AIDS for Africa. I said: ‘What about Botswana?’ But he insisted.”

In a major speech in 2010, Mr. Zuma increased the national AIDS budget by 30 percent and, along with Mr. Sidibe, publicly took an AIDS test.

Globally, Mr. Sidibé says, he is trying to “be a voice for those without one.” The groups that most need help, he argues, are the ones that no politician wants to be photographed with: gay men, prostitutes, transvestites, heroin users.

Mr. Sidibé has also fought hard against harsh anti-gay laws in Africa, against hate crimes like the “corrective rapes” of lesbians by South African gangs — and against the widespread belief that homosexuality is a Western import.

“If we can win this one,” Mr. Sidibé will say, “I can go back home and sit under my mango tree and feel proud.”

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Pacific Friends of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is a high-level advocacy organisation which seeks to mobilise regional awareness of the serious threat posed by HIV & AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria to societies and economies in the Pacific. In pursuing its goals Pacific Friends has a specific interest in highlighting the need to protect the rights of women and children in the Pacific.

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