The entire foreign diplomatic corps was invited to the State Department in Washington on Tuesday to hear Secretary of State Colin Powell deliver a message he hopes the envoys will convey to their governments: Political leadership is an essential component in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The meeting marks the first time all ambassadors from governments accredited in Washington were asked to gather to hear a message on a public health issue, said Jack Chow, the U.S. ambassador on HIV and AIDS issues.
"We know that national political leaders who are willing to speak out and commit their governments to a course of constructive action in combination with public health investment can make a difference," Chow said. He cited the example of Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, who early in his presidency recognized AIDS as a national security threat and personally oversaw the creation of a joint center for research. As a result, Chow said, Uganda is one example of a country where "a leader made a tangible, concrete difference at the grassroots level."
Chow said he hopes the positive experiences of countries like Uganda can be replicated in what he called "special risk countries," which include Nigeria, Ethiopia, China, India, and Russia, all of which face a growing incidence of HIV/AIDS. The potential for catastrophe is high, he said, since these countries have high population densities with relatively weak public health systems.