Mandela, Others Call for Increased Funding at End of XV International AIDS Conference
Former South African President Nelson Mandela on Friday at the closing ceremony of the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, called for individual commitment, increased funding and political leadership in the fight against AIDS, Xinhuanet/China View reports (Xinhuanet/China View, 7/16). "History will surely judge us harshly if we do not respond with all the energy and resources that we can bring to bear in the fight against AIDS," Mandela said. Mandela called on countries to fulfill financial commitments to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, saying, "We need to build the public-private partnership that is the vision of the Global Fund" (Cropley, Reuters, 7/16). Mandela said that in addition to governments, the call for funding applies to businesses, private foundations and individuals, according to Xinhuanet/China View. "Ask yourselves what you can do as global citizens in the fight against HIV and AIDS," he said, adding, "We must never forget our own responsibilities" (Xinhuanet/China View, 7/16).
At the close of the conference, participants also adopted the Bangkok Leadership Statement, which calls for increased political commitment to the fight against AIDS, Xinhuanet/China View reports (Xinhuanet/China View, 7/16). The statement was drafted under the guidance of Mandela's wife Graca Machel on behalf of the health ministers, churches, military representatives, youth groups, women's organizations and others participants in the conference's Leadership Forum. The statement said, "Despite all that we have learned about what works in prevention and treatment, the epidemic is on the rise in every region," adding, "Our inability to ensure human rights, equity, opportunities and a supportive and enabling environment for all has helped fuel the epidemic." The statement calls on leaders to hold themselves "collectively and individually" accountable for increasing access to treatment, mobilizing financial resources and working toward reducing AIDS-related stigma (Agence France-Presse, 7/16). Machel, who read the statement during the closing ceremonies, said, "There is no reason why we have to continue to lose lives because of our inaction and our incompetence" (Associated Press, 7/16). Although the statement is nonbinding, it calls on leaders at the XVI International AIDS Conference -- which will be held in Toronto, Canada, in 2006 -- to review progress on the goals (Agence France-Presse, 7/16).
Sonia Ghandi, leader of India's ruling Congress Party, at the close of the conference said that India -- which has the second largest number of HIV-positive people in the world -- would do more to fight the epidemic, Agence France-Presse reports. Ghandi said that although India has developed generic antiretroviral drugs, increased funding and worked to improve the safety of the country's blood supply, the country "need[s] to do a great deal more." She added, "I would like to take this opportunity to categorically assert the determination and the ability of the government and people of India to meet this daunting challenge, just as effectively as it did to eradicate smallpox some decades ago." Ghandi said that the country should substantially increase funding, improve HIV education and improve health facilities, according to Agence France-Presse (Agence France-Presse, 7/16). "We have risen to meet social, political and technological challenges in the past and I am confident we will do so again in the present context," Ghandi said (Joshi, Associated Press, 7/16). Ghandi during her trip to Bangkok for the conference was scheduled to meet with Mandela, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathi (Suryanarayana, Hindu, 7/16).
Debates over funding have shifted since the last International AIDS Conference because "billions" of dollars have "start[ed] rolling in," USA Today reports. UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said that the world must now focus on "how to make the money work to save lives" (Sternberg, USA Today, 7/16). In addition, science took a "back seat" at the conference to discussions of funding and policy, according to Reuters. "One of the tragedies of the culture that's developed around this conference is that a relatively small number of people have commanded a very disproportionate share of attention," Ambassador Randall Tobias, head of the State Department Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, said, adding, "As a result ... attention is not being directed at the other aspects of the conference where people could be exchanging ideas, I think a little more efficiently than perhaps takes place" (Reuters, 7/16). Advocates on Friday said that the conference had brought attention to the growing threat of AIDS in Asia, AFP/Yahoo News reports. "It's about mobilizing Asia not to go down the route South Africa has gone and to understand that there are populations that are vulnerable," Zackie Achmat, chair of the South African group Treatment Action Campaign, said (AFP/Yahoo News, 7/16).