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Southern African Traditional Leaders Team Up With NGOs In HIV/Aids Fight

Conference organizers said they were mistaken in not involving traditional leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS, adding they now are changing their strategy to lower HIV transmission rates

A strategic conference featuring HIV/Aids organizations and traditional chiefs in southern Africa ended in Johannesburg Thursday with the chiefs pledging to complement official efforts to fight the spread of HIV in their communities.

The three-day meeting, held under the theme "Unleashing The Power Of Traditional Leadership in HIV Prevention in Africa: Leaders committed to Zero New Infections, Zero Stigma and Zero Mother to Child Transmission" was the first of its kind in the region.

Organizers conceded they had been wrong in not involving traditional leaders in the fight against HIV/Aids, adding they are now changing their strategy as they seek to reduce new transmissions in the region.

The chiefs pledged to fight stigma and discrimination against those infected or affected by HIV/Aids in their societies.

Organized by the Southern Africa AIDS Information Dissemination Service, the meeting discussed among many issues, traditional practices like inheritance that many contend are perpetuating HIV/Aids, gender-based violence and women's rights.

Zimbabwean headman Richman Rangwani of Mhondoro-Ngezi, who is living with HIV, said traditional chiefs pledged to become prevention champions in fighting the Aids pandemic.

SAfAIDS Executive Director Loice Chingandu commented that traditional leaders yield immense power which can make a big difference in HIV interventions, hence the meeting with 65 regional chiefs.

"African communities accord great respect and honor to traditional leaders. Most of what they say is often respected and acted upon," said Chingandu.

"In some instances, they can play the role of a judge or magistrate on light issues that can be addressed at community level, and their judgments are upheld.

"SAfAIDS recognizes this immense power, which can significantly make a difference in HIV interventions and is engaging traditional leaders to use their influence on their communities to promote and scale up HIV prevention," Chingandu added.