WINDHOEK, June 11 - Zambia's founding President Dr Kenneth Kaunda, during his recent visit to Namibia made an impassioned appeal to the youth to abstain from sex as a way of preventing the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
As the theme of the Polytechnic's 8th HIV/AIDS awareness campaign was "Protect the youth: They are the Future." KK, as he is fondly known, spoke with conviction about the importance of abstaining from sex, especially where young people are concerned.
"Our people need to be taught in an open manner that abstinence offers the best protection against HIV/AIDS infection," he said to the youth, members of the diplomatic corps, students and staff of the Polytechnic of Namibia.
He repeatedly made calls for parents, teachers, and church and community leaders to speak frankly about the disease that has so far killed more than two million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone.
In Namibia, over 20 000 people have died due to the disease, which has been termed the most devastating challenge of mankind.
At the age of 80 years, and still waving his legendary white handkerchief, Kaunda spoke with conviction about HIV/AIDS, from which one of his sons died in 1986. He and his family announced the death of their son from HIV/AIDS related causes to break the wall of silence surrounding the disease.
Known for not holding his emotions, he wiped away tears after the Polytechnic choir sang a popular Nyanja song: "Tiyende pamodzi ndi mtima umo", to which he sang along.
He agreed with the theme of the campaign, saying the youth should be the main focus of AIDS prevention programmes because they are the most vulnerable age group.
And in discussions with young people, he said abstinence should be emphasised especially to those that are not yet infected. Since abstinence meant keeping away from sexual life, to be successful in such a campaign, Kaunda said, people must go all out to get everyone to know about the importance in all different areas of human endeavour.
"We must preach abstinence in all centres of learning, schools, colleges, universities. Yes, we must teach this abstinence at all places of work," he said, adding that the message needs to reach all the villages, townships and every corner of the African continent.
Worldwide, 40 million people were living with the disease in 2003, while five million new infections and three million deaths occurred.
He admitted that the times of HIV/AIDS are the most troubling and that the disease poses a threat that requires Africa and the international community to treat the pandemic as an emergency requiring urgent and exceptional measures.
Kaunda appealed to leaders on the continent to do more on awareness campaigns because ignorance, illiteracy and poverty are among the major contributing factors in the spread of the pandemic.
Horrifying as it may sound, people considered to be remote and conservative in nature are infected and are also facing extermination by the disease, noted Polytechnic's rector, Dr Tjama Tjivikua.
As societies are permeated by HIV/AIDS, the results are slow economic growth, reduced social welfare standards, death of a productive workforce as well as orphaned children.
The campaign, said Tjivikua, is a platform for education and information dissemination with regard to the disease, and particularly for students who are currently partners in development.
Devastating as the disease is, HIV/AIDS issues are shrouded in secrecy, with stigma and discrimination and taboos surrounding it to an extent that instead of changing habits and practices to combat the disease and take care of the sick, HIV/AIDS sufferers are met with scorn, disdain and disgust.
HIV/AIDS activists say sufferers of the disease are treated as though they are animals; some are chased out of houses, while yet others are denied their right to reproduction. And these and many more reasons do not create a conducive environment in which people can talk freely about the disease.
Tjivikua urged Namibians to collectively commit themselves to eradicating the disease as the process belongs to everyone.
Both speakers alluded to the fact that the campaign is a call to action because it is unacceptable to have 70 percent of all HIV/AIDS related cases in Africa, while Africa only represents 11 percent of the world's population.
Dr Kaunda reminded his audience that AIDS has no cure, and the medication available is only to prolong life. He also reminded people to get tested and know their status.
But to succeed in the management of the disease, Kaunda urged governments to avail sustainable programmes to remote areas where poor people cannot afford to buy them.
This, however said he, calls for resource mobilisation in order to improve health systems.
Gloomy as the situation may look, Kaunda is optimistic that one day the world will overcome the disease that has killed millions from the face of the earth.
People have termed it the killer disease, likening it to the 21st century bubonic plague, and one that has evaded modern medical technology solutions and cures, according to Tjivikua.
Kenneth Kaunda, who tested negative in 2002 and runs the Kenneth Kaunda Children of Africa Foundation, sang a song of hope to the people of Namibia, that "Sons of Africa arise and shine, in the name of Great Africa, we shall conquer AIDS."