UN AIDS Conference
This is Bob Doughty. And this is Doug Johnson with SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, a VOA Special English program about recent developments in science. Today we tell about a special United Nations meeting aimed at fighting AIDS -- a disease that is killing millions of people around the world.
Last month, the U-N General Assembly held its first conference about the disease AIDS. Representatives from the one-hundred-eighty-nine member General Assembly gathered to discuss the AIDS crisis. More than three-thousand government leaders, health experts, activists and people living with the disease took part. Nations recognize that AIDS threatens millions of lives and the economies of many nations, especially in Africa.
The U-N AIDS program organized the three-day meeting. U-N AIDS is a joint group of agencies that supervises international AIDS efforts. U-N Secretary General Kofi Annan led the meeting. Its goal was to find ways to halt the spread of AIDS in countries most affected by the disease.
Mr. Annan opened the meeting by appealing for equal treatment for people with AIDS. He said AIDS must be dealt with by speaking clearly and openly about ways people can become infected and what they can do to avoid infection.
The AIDS virus was discovered in the United States twenty years ago. Doctors first discovered the disease among men who had sex with men. Since then, it has killed almost twenty-two million people around the world. The disease has left thirteen-million children without parents. Three-million people died of AIDS last year, the most in any year. Fifteen-thousand people are infected with the virus every day.
More than thirty-six million people are now infected with the disease. More than seventy-percent of them are in Africa.
In some African countries, twenty-five percent of the population is infected with H-I-V. Many young people are dying. The disease has infected some of the most productive workers. The work force is shrinking. Businesses are failing because of a lack of trained workers and people to buy products. In many African nations, economic progress to improve living conditions has slowed. Experts say the disease has slowed development by ten years or more. Africa already suffers from lack of development, poor conditions, shortages of food, area conflicts and debt.
Kenya and Nigeria are each home to more than two-million people with H-I-V, the virus that causes AIDS. In Botswana and Zimbabwe, more than twenty-percent of the adult population is infected. And in South Africa, AIDS is expected to shorten life expectancies by seventeen years.
AIDS also has severely harmed the progress of women in Africa. Rates of infection among women in Africa are now close to that of men. And last year for the first time, more women than men were infected.
Although the disease has hit hardest in Africa, its effect is worldwide. AIDS is the leading cause of death among people ages fifteen to forty-four. In Russia, there were more new infections last year than in all years combined. India will soon have more people infected with the AIDS virus than any other country. China is not far behind. Within five years, India and China are expected to have a combined ten-million or more infected people.
However, there is some hopeful news about AIDS. Treatment programs have been successful in several countries. They include Senegal, Thailand Uganda and Brazil. Rates of infection in Uganda have decreased by two-thirds since Nineteen-Ninety-Three. Brazil is one of the few developing countries in the world to provide complete drug treatment for people with AIDS. As a result, AIDS deaths have been reduced by half during the past four years.
During the U-N meeting, Secretary General Annan proposed an international AIDS fund designed to increase money to fight AIDS in developing nations. The fund would pay for prevention programs and treatment in existing health care centers. It also would be used to improve general health care systems in poor countries to help them provide effective treatment for people with AIDS.Mr. Annan said the money would be provided to countries that request it as part of their national programs against AIDS. It would also be used to treat malaria and tuberculosis, which are diseases linked to AIDS. Mr. Annan said he hopes to have the fund operating by the end of the year.
The U-N has said that as much as ten-thousand-million dollars a year is needed to fight AIDS. Several countries, organizations, companies and individuals have promised money for the fund. But only about one-thousand-million dollars has been promised so far.
Some European countries say they will give money after more is known about the international AIDS fund. Some countries fear that the money will be wasted in administrative costs or by dishonest governments.
The United States has promised to give two-hundred-million dollars to the fund. But AIDS activists say that is a small amount for such a rich nation. Secretary of State Colin Powell promised that the United States would give more money later.
Some American congressmen are seeking to increase spending for AIDS to more than one-thousand-million dollars by next year.
Recently, some of the world's largest drug companies have sharply reduced the prices of powerful AIDS drugs for developing countries. But AIDS experts say this will have a limited effect until many other problems are solved. For example, many Africans are not tested for the disease. Many African countries do not have the medical equipment to give necessary blood tests. And few doctors know how to give AIDS drugs and supervise their use.
Some health experts worry that poor Africans will not take the AIDS drugs correctly. The medicines must be taken correctly to prevent the virus from becoming resistant to the drugs. But other experts say there are enough medical centers and doctors in most African cities to support AIDS drug programs. Activists say the problems with providing AIDS drugs can be solved.
The U-N General Assembly ended its historic three-day meeting with promises to start speaking openly about AIDS. The members promised to protect the rights of people with AIDS and H-I-V. They also promised to reduce infection rates and to treat those infected with the disease. The member nations agreed to provide the money to meet those goals.
The promises were part of a Declaration of Commitment. The U-N General Assembly approved the sixteen-page declaration after intense debate by governments and AIDS activists. The document can not be legally enforced. But government officials and citizens are expected to use the document to demand action in their countries.
The declaration calls for a twenty-five percent reduction in H-I-V infection rates among young people in the most affected countries within four years. The declaration also includes important national goals designed to give more power to women and girls. Infection rates are high among women and girls in some countries. This is mainly because of cultural traditions and national policies. Mr. Annan said that the AIDS virus will continue to spread unless women and girls are fully educated and have control over their sexual lives.
The declaration also calls for measures aimed at providing full human rights to people with AIDS and to groups that have a high risk for the disease.Countries will be expected to strengthen their health, education and legal systems to deal with the disease. Such efforts will require joint cooperation among non-governmental organizations, businesses and people infected with the AIDS virus.
Most health experts agree that prevention, care, treatment and research are all necessary to slow the AIDS crisis. They say young people need to be taught how to avoid the disease. They say medicines should be provided to prevent mothers from passing the disease to their babies. And they say more research is needed to develop a vaccine to prevent AIDS and a cure for the deadly disease.
This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Cynthia Kirk. It was produced by Caty Weaver. This is Bob Doughty. And this is Doug Johnson. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.