Ethiopia's Olympic gold medallist Haile Gebreselassie on Wednesday urged young Ethiopians to fight the scourge of HIV/AIDS.
“Hunger, poverty and disease have become synonymous with Ethiopia,” said the world's 10,000 metres record holder.
“At this time I want to say that we Ethiopians must fight what we need to fight," he said. "We don't need weapons – we are the weapons. We have to organise ourselves and do the things that need to be done.”
Haile has joined forces with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to highlight the plight of a million Ethiopian HIV/AIDS orphans. UNICEF is supporting this year’s Great Ethiopian Run – a 10-km race around the capital Addis Ababa to try and tackle the stigma attached to the virus.
Some 3.5 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS in the country – the third largest population in the world living with the virus.
“We need to reinforce our efforts," Haile said, speaking ahead of the race next month. "We can get rid of these things. These aren't things that have been reserved for Ethiopians. If we fight them we can overcome them now. As the years pass, the problems are compounded. And we will be unable to handle them.”
Ibrahim Jabr, the head of UNICEF in Ethiopia, said that at present the social services in the country were trying to deal with the AIDS orphans but could not cope.
“As a result, many AIDS orphans join the ranks of street children in search of an alternative means of survival,” he stressed.