South African HIV activists come out on the streets
From Darhoon Menghwar, of the Daily Ibrat, a Sindhi newspaper in Hyderabad, Sindh province, Pakistan, who attended a Thomson Reuters Foundation "Reporting HIV/AIDS" course in Bangkok in 2008
CAPE TOWN - Thousands of people including HIV positives demonstrated against discrimination at the opening ceremony of the International Aids Society (IAS) conference here.
The protest was mounted by local organisations including the Treatment Action Campaign. Activists called on the South African government to scale up its HIV treatment programme, saying that the 600,000 people currently receiving ant-retroviral drugs (ARV) through the country’s public health system was far short of targets.
South African adult HIV prevalence is about 20%. An estimated 5.7 million people - one in every five adults - are HIV positive. A health department speaker told the IAS conference: “South Africa's HIV/AIDS National Strategic Plan set targets to treat 80% of people who need ART by 2011, to give 95% of women access to prevention-of-mother-to-child transmission services by 2011, and to reduce new infections by 50% by 2011.”
IAS president Professor Julio Montaner criticised G8 leaders for failing to deliver on their promises. Speaking at the opening ceremony, he said: “We must hold the G8 leaders accountable. “We must always drive for an efficient response that includes rigorous evaluation, but there is nothing we can do that is more efficient in the long run than treating people early and in a sustained way.”
The 5th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention brought together more than 5,000 activists, scientists, donors and policy-makers.
AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition activist Mitchell Warren has said the world faced tremendous scientific and economic challenges in coming years, “but we must not lose sight of the momentum we have gained. The field needs sustained support from a range of funders."
According to UNAIDS, nearly 25 million people have died from AIDS in the past 25 years. Some 33 million are living with HIV and 2.5 million people are newly infected with the virus. Besides the estimated 2.1 million children living with HIV/AIDS, about 15 million children have lost one or both parents due to the disease.
In 2007, about 420,000 children under age 15 were infected with HIV and 290,000 died of AIDS.
South African deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe said his government was fully co-operative in the drive to save the lives of the HIV positive . “ARV is the right of every HIV positive, we are trying to do this, so for that I will convene a meeting with UN representatives, hoping to achieve our Aim,” he said.