Calling on students and world leaders “to fight the fight . and let justice prevail,” Stephen Lewis, the United Nations’ special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, discussed how students and the world can respond to the health crisis on that continent during a speech Wednesday in ICC Auditorium.

“It is a sad reality that peace is so elusive,” Lewis said. “History has never recorded such an assault on the human condition as HIV/AIDS. Country after country is being decimated by the virus.”

Lewis, a former UN ambassador from Canada and one of Time agazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2005, opened his speech by outlining the eight UN illennium Development Goals for 2015, including the eradication of poverty, the elimination of hunger and the promotion of gender equality.

Lewis said that the goals would not be attainable in Africa due to the poverty and hunger on the continent, heightened by recent droughts and other natural disasters.

“The gap between the wealthy and the impoverished, in the developed and the undeveloped, is growing,” Lewis said. “When you have hunger on top of terrible poverty, then the reality . becomes even more real.”

Lewis also said that “patterns of continuing conflicts” and “the inability of the international community to respond” exasperate the already volatile situation. He cited as an example the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, which since 1987 has kidnapped children, turning them into sex slaves or child soldiers.

According to Lewis, the situation is so desperate that Ugandan parents are even afraid to keep their children in the country’s safe camps, instead sending them into town, sometimes miles away, each night for protection.

“One-third [of the children] are dead that we know of, one-third have disappeared, and one-third have escaped,” Lewis said. “Not only have they been robbed of their childhoods, but the trauma . will affect [them] the rest of their lives.”

Lewis compared the situation in Uganda to the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan and condemned the United States and other Western nations for not doing more to stop the violence. He also mentioned the violence in East Congo, in which thousands of civilians have been raped, tortured and killed by fighting warlords.

“What is going on in East Congo is positively hallucinatory, and the world has done nothing,” he said.

Lewis emphasized, however, that the HIV/AIDS virus remains the greatest threat to Africa. He said that he was most troubled by what he called the little that has been accomplished.

“This is 2006,” Lewis said. “This is a world where people should not be dying when we can diminish the death.”

Lewis emphasized that gender inequality plays a large role in the spread of the virus.

“It’s the disproportionate vulnerability of women,” Lewis said. “It’s the gender inequality of women. The virus is largely driven by predatory male sexual behavior. Women are so vulnerable to be the stuff of nightmares.”

Lewis ended his speech on a positive note, stressing that there is still hope that many of Africa’s problems may be alleviated. The availability of less expensive HIV/AIDS treatment is increasing, and more university students are traveling to Africa to help with various aid organizations and programs, he said.

“The continent just grabs you,” Lewis said. “It has such spirit, such vitality.”

The speech, part of the Pacem in Terris lecture series, was sponsored by the Georgetown Lecture Fund and the President’s Office.

CORRECTION: The headline, photograph and caption accompanying the story “Envoy Urges Support to Africa” (THE HOYA, Jan. 27, 2006, A5) were mistakenly placed alongside an unrelated article.

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