U.N. Secretary-General Annan Opens XV International AIDS Conference Calling for World Leaders To Do More To Combat Epidemic
Efforts to fight HIV/AIDS are falling short, and world leaders should be more active in the fight against the disease, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Sunday during the opening of the XV International AIDS Conference, which is being held in Bangkok, Thailand, through July 16, the AP/Salt Lake Tribune reports. He said that although progress has been made in several areas, "we are not doing nearly well enough" (Joshi, AP/Salt Lake Tribune, 7/12). Annan also said, "The fight against AIDS requires leadership from all parts of governments right from the top. AIDS is far more than a health crisis. It is a threat to development itself" (Apiradee et al., Bangkok Post, 7/12). He added, "We need leaders everywhere to demonstrate that speaking up about AIDS is a point of pride, not a source of shame, ... There must be no more sticking heads in the sand, no more hiding behind the veil of apathy" (AP/Salt Lake Tribune, 7/12).
Annan said that the Asian HIV/AIDS epidemic is "spreading alarmingly" fast, according to the San Francisco Chronicle (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/12). He said, "There is no time to lose if we are to prevent the epidemic in Asia from spinning out of control" (Nakashima/Brown, Washington Post, 7/12). Although sub-Saharan Africa remains the most-affected region of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, one in four new HIV cases occurred in Asia in 2003, according to the 2004 UNAIDS Report of the Global AIDS Epidemic, the Christian Science Monitor reports (Montlake, Christian Science Monitor, 7/12). Annan added that a "terrifying pattern [has] emerge[d]" worldwide as women increasingly "bea[r] the brunt of the epidemic." According to Annan, women represent almost 50% of adult HIV cases and more than 60% of cases among people under age 24, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. However, one-third of all countries have "no policies to ensure that women have access to prevention and care," Annan said, adding, "Knowing what we do today about the path of the epidemic, how can we allow that to be the case?" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 7/11).
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said during the opening ceremony that "HIV is still in its infancy and is likely to continue to spread, rather than to go away by itself" (Xinuhuanet, 7/11). Thaksin added that the Thai government plans to donate $1 million each year for five years to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (IAC release, 7/11). Thaksin said that Thailand would donate the money even though it is a "small country, with a relatively small economy." Thailand has been awarded a $5 million Global Fund grant, which combined with $20 million in government funding will subsidize antiretroviral drug treatment for 50,000 HIV-positive people in the country, according to the Chronicle (San Francisco Chronicle, 7/13). "I will never cease my commitment to support universal coverage of antiretroviral treatment to people with HIV and AIDS," Thaksin said, adding, "There is no time for complacency" (IAC release, 7/11).
The conference opened on a "disturbing note" with the cancellation of a closed-session Leadership Summit that had been scheduled for Monday, the New York Times reports (Altman, New York Times, 7/12). Thailand's government cancelled the meeting because all but one of the invited leaders declined to attend. The leadership summit, titled "Leadership on HIV/AIDS," was slated as an event for leaders of HIV/AIDS-affected countries and donor nations to meet and develop strategies for combating HIV/AIDS. The leaders of 13 countries and Annan were expected to attend the summit, which was scheduled to be hosted by Thaksin. Invitations to the summit were sent to the leaders of Botswana, Brazil, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Canada, China, India, Russia and the European Commission (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/6). Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was the only invited leader to accept the invitation, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said. He added that he was "disappointed" that there were not more leaders at the conference because "strong political will at a national level" is crucial to fighting HIV/AIDS, according to the Times. Piot added that although political leadership in the fight against the epidemic has improved in recent years, it remains "too weak in many parts of the world." Piot also said that the experience of HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson at the 2002 International AIDS Conference in Barcelona -- where protestors interrupted his speech -- may have contributed to the low response rate, the Times reports. However, Piot added that he was "encouraged" by the more than 100 government ministers of health, education, finance, defense and foreign affairs from throughout the world who are attending the conference, according to the Times (New York Times, 7/12).
Conference Co-Chair Dr. Vallop Thaineua of the Thai Ministry of Public Health welcomed participants to the conference, which includes 17,000 delegates from 160 countries, according to a conference release. Dr. Joep Lange, conference co-chair and president of the International AIDS Society, told delegates that it is the "responsibility of all delegates assembled here, and the world's leaders, to ensure that the conference theme of 'Access for All' has life beyond Bangkok," adding, "We can no longer accept more talking. We must commit to action now." The opening ceremony also included a candlelight memorial ceremony hosted by Thaksin and Miss Universe 2004 Jennifer Hawkins and an opening film, titled "Global Youth in a World with HIV/AIDS" (IAC release, 7/11).
The following U.S. broadcast programs reported on the opening of the conference:
- CNN's "Sunday Morning": The segment includes comments from Thai senator Mechi Viravaidya, a "leading" Thai AIDS advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention (Raman, "Sunday Morning," CNN, 7/11). The complete transcript is available online.
- KQED's "Forum": Guests on the program included Anne-Christine d'Adesky, author of "Moving Mountains: The Race to Treat Global AIDS," and Rene Durazzo, vice president of global programs for Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation (Coiro, "Forum," KQED, 7/9). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NBC's "Nightly News": The segment includes comments from Annan; Hakan Bjorkman of the United Nations Development Program; and Jim Yong Kim of WHO (Colt, "Nightly News," NBC, 7/11). The complete segment is available online in Windows Media.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from Annan, Thaksin, and international HIV/AIDS advocates (Knox, "All Things Considered," NPR, 7/11). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer. Expanded NPR coverage of the conference is available online.
The following international broadcast programs reported on the opening of the conference:
Australian Broadcasting Corporation: The segment includes comments from Annan, HIV/AIDS advocate Stuart Flavell, Hawkins and inventor Gerald Thompson (Lloyd, ABC, 7/12). The video report is available online in RealPlayer and online in Windows Media.
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation: The segment reports on the influence of religious fundamentalism on the Bush administration's HIV/AIDS prevention policies (Lloyd, ABC, 7/12). The audio report is available online in RealPlayer and online in Windows Media.
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation's "Asia Pacific": The segment includes comments from Annan, Mechi and Werasit Sittitrai, associate director of UNAIDS' Department of Policy, Strategy and Research (De Masi, "Asia Pacific," ABC, 7/11). A transcript is available online. The complete segment is available online in Windows Media.
- Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: The segment includes comments from Annan and HIV/AIDS advocates protesting at the conference (McAuliffe, CBC, 7/11). A transcript is available online. A video report is available online in RealPlayer. An audio report is available online in RealPlayer.