Three themes dominated the XIV International AIDS Conference in Barcelona this week: treatment, funding, and the impact of the epidemic on women.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Carol Bellamy told the conference that AIDS had a human face, and it was that of a young woman. Figures show that AIDS disproportionately affects women, especially in Africa.
UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis, said: The face of women has been put in full sight at this conference more than ever before and it demands a change of values in society and within families.
But Lungie Mazibuko of South Africa's National Association of People living with HIV/AIDS is not yet convinced that any changes will happen. We’ve heard all these presentations and research on women, about their vulnerabilities and how they are at risk. But we are still to see any political commitment on these issues, she said.
HIV positive women and members of the Women at Barcelona group on Friday took to the streets to demand action to address what has been for too long a silent pandemic among women.
On Tuesday, US Health Secretary Tommy Thompson came in for a rough ride in Barcelona. He was shouted down by AIDS activists and prevented from addressing the conference. Waving placards saying Fund the Fund and chanting, Where is the 10 billion?, the activists expressed their frustration at the stinginess of developed countries such as the United States.
So far, out of the US $10 billion required annually, only US $2.1 billion has been pledged to the Fund with US $700-800 million available for disbursement in 2002. The US $10 billion a year target would represent just 0.05 percent of the gross national product of the G8 countries, according to the AIDS coalition Act Up.
Peter Piot, UNAIDS Executive Director told the conference: Treatment is technically feasible in every part of the world. Even the lack of infrastructure is not an excuse … US $10 billion annually is all it will take for a minimum credible response to the epidemic. It is three times more than is available today.
A number of presentations at the conference demonstrated that AIDS treatment campaigns are possible in poor communities. Yet funding and the political will – both local and international - remain major obstacles.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) this week challenged the international community and called for three million people, mainly in Africa, to have access to antiretroviral (ARV) therapy by 2005. So far less than 30,000 Africans are on ARVs, yet UNAIDS warned that research suggested the disease was still in its early stages.
Meanwhile, the first delivery date for the raft of promises made at the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on AIDS last year is 2003.
These include the integration of HIV/AIDS prevention, care, treatment and support and impact mitigation priorities into the mainstream of development planning, including poverty eradication strategies and national budget allocations.
The XV International Conference on AIDS will be held in Bangkok, Thailand in 2004. Bangkok will be a time of accountability, Piot said. We will know who has delivered on the first UNGASS promises
(Source:Barcelona, 12 July ( IRIN)