Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My New York Times Letter to the Editor: "Mobilized Against AIDS"

Last week, New York Times reporter Donald McNeil Jr. published a story comparing the global fight against HIV/AIDS to smallpox eradication ( He made several misinformed claims about AIDS activism in Africa that I thought should be challenged.

My Letter to the Editor, entitled “Mobilized Against AIDS,” was published today:

Below is the full text of a Letter to the Editor that I submitted before it was shortened by an editor.

To the Editor:

Rwanda has fought for the last decade to provide free universal access to antiretroviral therapy for all HIV-positive residents who are clinically in need. Who do you suppose is most responsible for this achievement? Not the European Union or America. It is our government. Activists here and around the continent continue to mobilize and, in partnership with countries like yours, are making incredible progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Monday’s article in the Times painted a false picture of all Africans as fatalistic victims of the virus instead of activists who are building the global movement to demand access to the fruits of modern medicine. Rwandans are in no way resigned. We battle not only for ARVs, but also for peace and reconciliation. We battle for quality healthcare, and we are winning. In just five years, we have reduced child mortality by 50%; I could go on if I had space.

Next time, before printing, do not use metaphorical anecdotes about your experience in airports as an anthropological metric – actually come see what we are doing to fulfill the human rights of our population. You are welcome in Rwanda.

Agnes Binagwaho

Kigali, Rwanda
The writer is Rwanda’s minister of health and a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School.