IN THE NEWS #438 -13th International AIDS Conference

By Cynthia Kirk

This is Shep O'Neal with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

More than twelve-thousand people attended the Thirteenth International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa, last week. The goal of these researchers, activists and politicians was to increase awareness about the AIDS crisis in Africa and around the world.

More than thirty-four million people worldwide are infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV. More than two-thirds are in Africa. Most are are in countries south of the Sahara Desert.

Experts say AIDS has killed more Africans than wars, floods and hunger combined. Years have been cut from life expectancy rates. Studies show that within ten years almost thirty-million African children will have lost at least one parent to AIDS.

Few developing countries offer AIDS testing. Fewer still are able to get the powerful AIDS drugs that have helped control the infection in richer countries.

The Durban meeting was the first international AIDS conference to be held in a developing country. Organizers chose South Africa because of the severity of the crisis there.

South African President Thabo Mbeki spoke during the opening ceremonies. Scientists and AIDS activists have criticized him for questioning the link between HIV and AIDS. Earlier this year Mr. Mbeki met with researchers who say HIV may not cause AIDS. Most scientists agree that it does.

Conference delegates also spoke about the widening AIDS crisis in Russia. And they expressed concern about the threat of the virus spreading in the world's most populated countries, China and India.

There is some good news. Strong prevention campaigns have slowed the infection rate in Uganda and Senegal. And Thailand is noted for its campaigns to get people to use safer methods of sex, to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Also, scientists discussed a promising new AIDS drug called T-Twenty. And, they reported progress toward an AIDS vaccine.

Activists called on Western drug companies to provide medicines to poor countries at lower costs. Several drug companies said they are taking steps to get AIDS drugs to the poor. But health officials say countries also need effective health care systems to carry out complex treatments.

Health experts say at least three-billion dollars a year is needed to fight AIDS. Last week there were promises of millions of dollars from the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others. And, this week, the United States Export-Import Bank offered loans of one-thousand-million dollars a year over the next five years to sub-Saharan Africa. Countries would use the money to buy AIDS drugs and medical services from American companies.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Shep O'Neal.

Voice of America Special English