AIDS conference to focus on killer tuberculosis

Tamar Kahn - Science and Health Editor

The meeting is the biggest local gathering of its kind, and will focus attention on SAs HIV/AIDS epidemic, which is among the worlds worst .

About 5,4-million South Africans are infected with the deadly disease, for which there is no cure.

Many participants and observers will be watching to see whether controversy-prone Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, recovering from a liver transplant, will make an appearance. Conference organisers said a slot was available for the minister to speak on Wednesday.

The conference will be opened tomorrow night by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ncguka, who heads the recently restructured South African National AIDS Council.

Expected to join her on the podium are social activist Graa Machel, the Treatment Action Campaigns Nkhensani Mavasa, and the executive director of United Nations (UN) HIV/AIDS agency UNAIDS, Peter Piot.

Piot is on his first official mission to SA since 2000, and is expected to make an announcement on Thursday on his findings.

The conference theme is Building Consensus on Prevention, Treatment and Care, and organisers hope to end the four-day meeting with a formal declaration on the way forward on key topics, such as the role of male circumcision in preventing HIV transmission. Other issues up for discussion include the UNs new guidelines on HIV testing and the spread of extremely drug resistant tuberculosis, to which people infected with HIV are particularly vulnerable.

Conference chairperson, Human Sciences Research Council CEO Olive Shisana, said it was important to discuss evidence-based interventions for preventing more HIV infections.

Each year many people die prematurely of AIDS and too many children are orphaned, in spite of the availability of life-prolonging drugs.

We realise that for us to succeed in fighting the epidemic, we must work together.

More details on the 3rd SA AIDS Conference, taking place in Durban this week, can be accessed at http://www.sa-aidsconference.com/