End of AIDS ‘nowhere in sight’

August 10th, 2008 - 9:07 am ICT by IANS  

By Sumita Thapar
Mexico City, Aug 10 (DPA) The world’s largest AIDS conference has ended with governments, health experts and HIV-positive people determined to tackle the next 25 years of the epidemic, but the end to the pandemic is “nowhere in sight”. There were few answers - none were really expected - at the recently concluded XVII International AIDS Conference, held for the first time in Latin America and attended by 25,000 people.

“For the first time, fewer people are dying of AIDS and fewer people are becoming infected with HIV,” said Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, the joint United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS.

But he warned: “The end of AIDS is nowhere in sight.”

Speakers at the closing session highlighted the negative impact that stigma and the denial of human rights continue to have on both HIV prevention and treatment.

“The voices of those who bear the brunt of this pandemic have been loud and clear in Mexico City this week,” said conference co-chair Pedro Cahn.

Luis Soto-Ramirez, one of Mexico’s top AIDS researchers, said the international community must include the views and experiences of communities most at risk of HIV infection - injectibles, men who have sex with men, sex workers, children and women - to develop effective prevention programmes.

Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, appealed for committed international funds to care for AIDS-hit countries.

“Lives are being saved on an unprecedented scale. But we cannot leave Mexico with any sense of complacency,” he said.

Three million people in the developing world are on treatment, but twice as many are still unable to get life-saving medications.

AIDS is preventable, but more than 6,800 people contract new HIV infections each day.

AIDS is treatable, but 2.1 million people - more often than not young adults in prime earning and parenting years - die each year from the disease.

A generation of children has never known a world without AIDS.

Keren Dunaway, an AIDS activist at just 13, said: “People look at us and treat us in unusual ways. I want people to see something more than just a girl living with HIV. I want them to see me as a normal girl who studies and is full of dreams.”

Treatment makes it possible for people with HIV to live longer, but many questioned the quality of their lives.

Some women, who have lived with HIV for more than 20 years, said that reclaiming their “loss of sexual identity” was critical to their continuing wellbeing.

“It is very important in our culture for a woman to have a child. More and more young, HIV-positive women are demanding this,” Dorothy Onyango, who heads the positive network Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya, said.

“But access to health services to prevent mother-to-child transmission still remains difficult in many remote areas.”

Esther Sheehama, 26, of Namibia has been HIV-positive for nine years and is a part of the International Community of Women Living with HIV.

“When I gave birth the doctor had done a Caesarean, and a few months later I found out that I was sterilized without my consent. It happened just because of my HIV status,” she wrote in Mujeres Adelante, a daily newsletter on women’s rights and HIV at the conference.

“The doctor took away my basic right purely because he thought he had the power to make decisions on my behalf. Surely the government should be held accountable for what happened to me and other HIV-positive women who were denied their rights to motherhood.”

Anna Koshikova of the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with AIDS, said that despite services available to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child, doctors often insist that HIV-positive women undergo abortions.

A lot of attention at the conference was devoted to homophobia and spiralling HIV infection rates worldwide among men who have sex with men (MSM).

Studies reveal that MSM are on an average 19 times more likely to get infected than heterosexual men in poor and middle-income countries.

The 2010 conference is to be held in Vienna, with a focus on the raging AIDS epidemic in Eastern Europe.

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