Opening Day of World Summit on Sustainable Development Will Focus on HIV/AIDS
Today's opening session of the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, will focus on health issues, including HIV/AIDS, Xinhua News Agency reports. At a press conference yesterday, U.N. Undersecretary-General and summit organizer Nitin Desai said that HIV/AIDS will be a "central issue" throughout the conference, which begins today and runs through Sept. 4 (Xinhua News Agency, 8/25). Nearly 100 world leaders and 40,000 other delegates are attending the summit, also known as the Earth Summit, which seeks to "devise global plans" for combating pollution, preserving natural resources and "accelerat[ing]" economic development in poor nations (Jeter, Washington Post, 8/25). The summit will also, for the first time, address "issues of enormous human suffering," such as HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Although progress has been made in fighting measles and diarrhea since the last summit in Rio de Janiero 10 years ago, little headway has been made in the battle against HIV/AIDS, the AP/Nando Times reports. Over the last 10 years, 60 million people have become infected with HIV and more than 20 million people have died of AIDS-related causes. Experts predict that another 45 million people, most of them Africans, could become infected with HIV by the end of the decade (Verrengia, AP/Nando Times, 8/25). Desai said that further development progress is "impossible" without addressing the disease and its ramifications. "You can't talk about sustainable development or any other development in a situation where a severe AIDS pandemic is raging because of its impact on social and economic terms," he said (Kraft, Associated Press, 8/25). NPR's Richard Harris on "Morning Edition" today gave a "rundown of the top issues being discussed" at the summit, saying, "Surprisingly enough AIDS is ... a very big issue here. Surprisingly because it was completely absent from the Rio conference, and you don't usually think of AIDS as a development issue. But when you realize what is happening to populations in places like Africa, you realize how big an impact it is having" (Harris, "Morning Edition," NPR, 8/26).
The full segment of Harris' interview is available in RealPlayer Audio online.
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Friday also featured a report on the conference (Harris, "All Things Considered," NPR, 8/23). The full segment is available in RealPlayer Audio online.
Kaisernetwork.org's HealthCast will be webcasting sessions from the summit. Readers will be alerted when the sessions are available online.
South African Foreign Minister Defends AIDS Policies
Also at the press conference yesterday, South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma defended the nation's HIV/AIDS policies, the South African Press Association reports. Responding to a question from a reporter who asked if South Africa's HIV/AIDS policies are based on the notion that HIV causes AIDS -- an assertion that South African President Thabo Mbeki has publicly questioned -- Dlamini-Zuma said, "The South African AIDS policy is based on the fact and point of departure that HIV causes AIDS." She added that it was also based on the fact that there is no cure or vaccine available for the virus. Dlamini-Zuma said that the country will continue to focus on prevention because "just like in business, ... one invests where one gets the best returns." When asked about the government's reluctance to provide antiretroviral treatment to the country's residents, Dlamini-Zuma said that there was "no principle" against supplying the drugs, adding that the price of the medications is prohibitive. She said that even if price were not a factor, the government's health infrastructure is insufficient to properly administer and monitor the drugs. Dlamini-Zuma added that the government has agreed to provide nevirapine to HIV-positive pregnant women and was doing so at several test sites (South African Press Association, 8/25).
Mandela Reveals Family Deaths From AIDS-Related Illnesses
In related news, on the eve of the summit, former South African President Nelson Mandela revealed that his niece and two sons of his nephew have died from AIDS-related illnesses, the Johannesburg Sunday Times reports (Schoonaker, Johannesburg Sunday Times, 8/25). Mandela said that he learned about his niece's condition on a recent trip to the Eastern Cape, where he visited her in the hospital. He did not learn that his great-nephews had AIDS until after their deaths (South African Press Association, 8/25). "You don't understand how painful it is for somebody to have HIV/AIDS until somebody close to you dies of this pandemic. What I want to stress is the devastating effect of AIDS on this country. All of us have to stand up and make sure this matter is widely publicized," Mandela said. Mandela has criticized the South African government's HIV/AIDS policies, such as its decision to not provide antiretroviral treatment through the nation's public health system (Reuters, 8/25). Although Mandela did not know whether his great nephews had access to antiretroviral medication, he said, "The father is a well-to-do man so they could not have been short of resources to get antiretrovirals." Mandela withheld the names of the three relatives at the request of their immediate families (South African Press Association, 8/25).