World leaders unite in fight against HIV and AIDS


By NewScientist.com staff and AFP Leaders around the world marked World AIDS Day on Thursday by calling for new action to help tackle the global pandemic. However, the calls reveal a world divided over the best strategy for dealing with the disease. A record 40.3 million people are now living with HIV or AIDS around the world and the head of the United Nation’s AIDS agency called for an unprecedented response. “The world faces a choice in the global response to AIDS,” said UNAIDS executive director Peter Piot. “We can either continue to accept that global efforts will fail to keep pace with ever increasing numbers of HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths, or we can recognise the exceptional global threat posed by AIDS and embrace an equally exceptional response.” A similar sentiment was echoed by leaders across the world during the 18th international “day of action” against AIDS and HIV with many calling for new strategies to help counter the worsening pandemic. The US urged other countries to contribute more money to the international fight against AIDS. “The US is providing about 50% of all the resources for HIV and AIDS among international governments and that fundamentally needs to change,” said Mark Dybul, the US government’s deputy global AIDS coordinator. “We need everyone in the world to step up to the same type of leadership.” However, the European Union signalled a split with the US over curbing the AIDS pandemic in Africa, by urging the continent’s governments to ignore the US’s “ABC” programme, which promotes sexual abstinence. ABC stands for abstinence, be faithful and use a condom if necessary. “We are profoundly concerned about the resurgence of partial or incomplete messages on HIV prevention,” said a statement from the 25 member states. “Overturning the AIDS pandemic requires having the courage to do what is known to be effective.” The EU believes it is crucial to promote condom use, education and access to sexual and reproductive health services. In South Africa, which has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world, deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called for a renewed commitment to fighting the disease. “There are 364 other AIDS days during the year, during which we must maintain existing efforts and mount new responses to HIV and AIDS,” she said. “Whatever good we do today let us repeat it tomorrow, next week and in the coming months as we look forward to the years ahead.” But protesters took to the streets in South Africa to demand more life-prolonging drugs. More than 6 million people in the country live with HIV or AIDS, but only 80,000 people have access to free anti-retrovirals (ARVs), despite estimates that as many as 500,000 vitally need them. At a national convention, India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh called for safe sex to be taught to young people in his country, which has the second highest number of people with the virus, after South Africa. The latest figures show there are 5.13 million HIV-positive people in India. “This is particularly important given our traditional inhibitions about discussing such matters within our families and among our colleagues, quite apart from doing so in public,” Singh said. Estonia, which the highest per capita rate of infection in the European Union, unveiled an action plan and held events to dispel myths about HIV and AIDS. “This is a highly significant plan, with very concrete actions planned for the coming years. World AIDS Day is a highly appropriate date to pass such a strategy,” government spokesman Martin Jashko told AFP after the cabinet approved the plan, which covers 2006 to 2015. The Estonian commitment provides for sharply increased funding aimed at slashing new HIV infections from a current level of 55 people per 100,000 to 20 per 100,000. China marked the day with public awareness campaigns and a vow to control HIV cases. Health minister Gao Qiang told a press conference that his government would achieve its long-term goal of keeping the number of HIV patients under 1.5 million until at least 2010. The government says there are about 840,000 HIV-positive people in China. The UN estimates the figure could be much higher and has warned the number of infected people could rise to 10 million by 2010. Some experts say the country still faces an uphill battle in dealing with the crisis. More on these topics:
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