XIV International AIDS Conference Opens Amid Calls for Increased Commitment from Political Leaders
The XIV International AIDS Conference opened yesterday in Barcelona, Spain, with speakers calling on politicians to "refocu[s]" their attention on the disease, which has contributed to the deaths of 20 million people, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Only "modest" gains in HIV/AIDS research are expected to be presented at the conference, which runs through Friday. Organizers expect instead to focus on the "political commitment forged" two years ago at the XIII International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa. During the opening ceremonies yesterday, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot "openly challenged" political leaders to follow through on previous commitments by allocating the estimated $10 billion needed annually to fight HIV/AIDS on an international scale. "The world stood by while AIDS overwhelmed sub-Saharan Africa. Never again," Piot said, adding, "We did not come to Barcelona to renegotiate promises" (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/8). Piot also advocated for treatment in developing nations, saying, "[t]reatment is technically feasible in every part of the world. ... It's not knowledge that's the barrier. It's political will" (Hirschler, Reuters/Washington Times, 7/8). A video of highlight's from Piot's speech is available online.
Piot's call for treatment access was echoed Saturday by officials from the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and the International AIDS Society, who called for a new alliance that would provide AIDS treatments and medical experts to developing nations "on a massive scale," the Washington Post reports (Brown, Washington Post, 7/7). Speaking at a meeting of about 60 representatives from corporations, advocacy groups, think tanks, government agencies and physician groups, IAS' Dr. Joep Lange said that the alliance would be an "independent body to carry out use of antiretrovirals in poor countries" (Garrett, Newsday, 7/7). The new alliance would serve as a companion organization to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Washington Post reports. According to Lange, without "a marshaling of expertise and a winnowing of bad strategies from good ones," by 2005, "we will have a few hundred thousand ... but not millions [of people], on [antiretroviral] treatment." Officials from the IAS, UNAIDS and WHO plan to meet again in October to "formulate more specific plans" for the alliance (Washington Post, 7/7).
Protests Disrupt Ceremonies
Some of the 15,000 people attending yesterday's opening ceremonies walked out after a "chorus of jeers and whistles" from AIDS activists seeking greater access to AIDS drugs in developing countries "drowned out" a speech by Spanish Health Minister Celia Villalobos, Reuters reports. The activists said the disruption was meant to protest the denial of visas to some people from developing countries who had planned to attend the conference (Hirschler, Reuters, 7/8). Attendees from the United States and European Union nations do not need visas to visit Spain, but visitors from some developing nations must obtain visas before being permitted to enter the country. Some African delegates were asked to show proof of health insurance and provide bank statements before they were considered for visas, "outrag[ing]" many conference attendees. Conference co-chair Dr. Jordi Casabona said that "most if not all" visa problems had been cleared up in time for most delegates to attend yesterday's opening ceremonies (San Francisco Chronicle, 7/8).
Advocates Request More Funding
On Saturday, activists called for more funding to fight HIV/AIDS and the "poverty fueling the epidemic" in developing nations, Reuters reports. Representatives from ActionAid, an AIDS charity, said that "nowhere near enough effort or money" is being devoted to the fight against HIV/AIDS. ActionAid representative Dr. Jacqueline Bataringaya said, "It is a sad fact that 90% of people living with HIV/AIDS are in the developing world, but 90% of the money spent on HIV/AIDS is in the developed world" (Reaney/Hirschler, Reuters, 7/6). Piot noted that there has been a 600% increase in funding to AIDS programs in developing nations since 1998, with most of that increase having come in the two years since the Durban conference. However, Piot also noted that just $2.8 billion will be spent on AIDS programs in "low- and middle-income" nations this year, well below the $10 billion his organization estimates is needed (Ross, Associated Press, 7/7). NPR's "All Things Considered" Sunday reported on the opening of the conference. The full segment is available in RealPlayer Audio online (Coleman, "All Things Considered," NPR, 7/7). NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday" also reported on the opening of the conference. The full segment is available in RealPlayer Audio online (Knox, "Weekend Edition," NPR, 7/7). A report from NPR's "Morning Edition" will be available in RealPlayer Audio online after noon ET. NPR coverage of the conference is archived online. MSNBC coverage of the conference is also archived online.