Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Zambian Election and HIV/AIDS

28th September is a big date for Zambians. It is the date of the Presidential and Parliamentary elections that will shape Zambian politics for the next for the foreseeable future. The issue of HIV/AIDS is one that many NGO's are fighting to put on the agenda.

"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 civic organisation.

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 said.

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 office.
"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."

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