In Race Against Time, Stephen Lewis sets out to expand the international discussion about UN renewal. Lewis argues that this discussion - which typically includes the Security Council, terrorism, and the Human Rights Council - must also include development and humanitarianism, particularly in relation to Africa. During Lewis' career in Africa, he was unprepared for the "carnage" of HIV/AIDS. He makes the unsettling statement that he has spent the last four years "watching people die." He and others "race against time" to halt a seemingly endless epidemic that could kill a generation. Lewis sees hunger, AIDS, education, and gender equality as four crucial areas and frames his argument with the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG).
Meeting the first goal to eliminate poverty and hunger is vital. Sub-Saharan Africa will not meet the MDG. The region is too poor, faces too much illness, does not have the necessary human capital, and lacks the needed infrastructure. The blame for such conditions does not lie with Africa. Instead, blame begins with the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPS) instituted by the IMF and World Bank. Such plans devastated local economies by removing the safeguards that provided protection and allowed aid. If the UN eliminates hunger, all other goals are attainable.
Understanding the impact of HIV/AIDS is similarly important. HIV/AIDS threatens each MDG. Lewis sees hope that slowing HIV/AIDS is possible. There are medicines that limit transmissions from pregnant mothers to children to 1-2%, down from 53%. Other medicines have a "Lazarus effect" and raise the CDH count of white blood cells in near dead people to healthy levels of about 200.
Education is also crucial in addressing the poverty of Africa. The UN frequently calls education a need and a right. Still, many children have their education hampered by fees. Despite commitments made in 2000, five years elapsed without making significant progress by the time of writing. Lewis calls for "universal, unimpeded, unequivocal free education." This means zero fees of any sort. This is a right according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The international community agreed to this convention.
Lewis is less hopeful about gender equality, saying it will not exit by 2015 and that poverty in Africa cannot be addressed without it. Equality will allow the world to see the enormous role that women play in Africa. African famine has two sources: drought and AIDS. Drought limits resources. Illness limits the work that the meagre resources allow. Even if weather cooperated, crops could not be tilled and markets could not be visited. As farmers, caregivers, and mothers, women in Africa are often the "pillars of society." When AIDS impacts women, it impacts everyone.
Lewis' final chapter makes eleven proposals for dramatic change in how the UN addresses the needs of Africa. The current pace will fail to meet the MDG. Dramatic change saves the MDG from being an "intellectual illusion." Lewis' suggestions include:
1. expand the Jubilee Coalition, cancel all African debt, and create accountability for development aid given to Africa.
2. create a UN agency specifically to address gender inequality.
3. provide universal healthcare for all AIDS patients, including both preventative care and treatments.
4. address the financial need of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
5. address the impact of hunger on AIDS treatment.
6. implement the Millennium Village Project to enact the MDG on a village by village basis.
7. double funds to $700-800 million for preventative technologies for healthcare
8. develop a country by country plan to allow primary education as part of the IMF and World Bank mandates.
9. address the needs of orphans by acknowledging the roles of grandmothers and implementing a caregiver structure plan.
10. insert capable people in roles that implement these suggestions.
11. confront rather than set aside controversy addressing need.
Race Against Time is an effective teacher. I came to it with a respect for Mr. Lewis, knowing a bit about Africa and the UN, and awareness about the Millennium Development Goals. Before reading, I was unaware of the significant improvements in HIV/AIDS treatment, particularly in regards to mother-child transmissions.
Lewis also gives weight to what I've only said through cliché. Before reading, I would say education is important in combating disease but could only mumble something about prevention. Lewis eliminates cliché by providing evidence that education is lifesaving. His numbers are as follows - HIV/AIDS has a prevalence rate of 12% amongst people with no education, a prevalence rate of 6% amongst those with elementary education, and 2% amongst those with secondary education. I now have data.
I found Lewis' discussion about Africa before the AIDS epidemic moving and infuriating. Lewis does not pretend that everything was peachy before the early 1980s, but the continent has had a sharp decline in the last 30 years. That makes me angry. The international community allowed this within my lifetime.
I appreciated Lewis' bluntness. He is saddened to criticize the UN, but he does so throughout. He also criticizes Canada's failure to meet its commitment to provide 0.7% of GDP in aid as part of the Blair Commission, despite continued budget surpluses. Being so pointed about Canada and the UN is no small feat. Lewis is criticizing his own country and an agency to which he has devoted a substantial portion of his career. He notes where his groups dropped the ball.