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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 February, 2004, 12:55 GMT
Africa leaders still shy about Aids
By Grant Ferrett
BBC, Nairobi

Campaigners against Aids have applauded Malawi's President Bakili Muluzi for publicly acknowledging that he has had an HIV test.

Announcing that the result was "good news" Mr Muluzi also revealed that his brother had died as a result of Aids.

The UNAids agency said it would like to see more African leaders display such openness.

Aids victim
UNAids wants African leaders to speak publicly about the disease
Mr Muluzi has joined a highly select group of African leaders who have openly declared that members of their family have died as a result of Aids.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela has talked broadly of having lost relatives to the disease, but you have to go back to 1986 to find an African head of state naming a member of his family who had died.

Then it was Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda who held a news conference to announce that his son had been killed by what was then a recently-identified illness.

The reaction from other African leaders to the latest announcement has been muted.

'Peculiar questions'

At a news conference in Nairobi, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni declined to answer whether he too would take an HIV test.

His Kenyan counterpart Mwai Kibaki seemed taken aback by the suggestion.

President Bakili Muluzi
President Muluzi is breaking the mould
"Well these peculiar questions... we have no problem at all. We can undergo any tests for anything any time. None of us is afraid of any of those things," he said.

The uncomfortable laughter of officials accompanying the two presidents speaks volumes.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the centre of the worldwide Aids crisis, HIV is still rarely referred to in personal terms.

Death notices in newspaper columns are packed with euphemistic references to people who died "as a result of a long illness".

The agency UNAids described the announcement by the Malawian leader as an excellent example which should be followed by others.

A spokesman for the agency said he hoped it would encourage people to recognise that HIV can affect anyone, at any level of society, and was not something to be covered up.




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