International conference breaks silence over Aids in Africa

An HIV positive baby girl undergoes a medical examination in Durban, the South African town which hosted the 13th International Aids Conference. Keystone

The managing-director of the Swiss Aids Federation, Ruth Rutman, says the 13th International Aids Conference, which has just ended in South Africa, was a success despite the controversial stance of the South African government.

This content was published on July 14, 2000 - 16:39

Rutman said the conference had achieved its main goal, which was to break the silence over the extent of the epidemic in Africa.

"Africa's Aids problem has definitely been put on the map. The figures presented at the conference showed that in South Africa alone, one in two youngsters is going to die of Aids sooner or later".

Rutman said the conference had also underlined the success of prevention and therapy in Western countries and there was now "no excuse" for not making drugs like AZT available in the developing world. She said that governments and international organisations had also signalled a new determination, with pledges to allocate more resources in the battle against Aids.

However, most of the media attention was on the controversial stance of the South African government on the origins of the disease.

In his opening address, President Thabo Mbeki failed to acknowledge the link between the HIV virus and Aids. He had already sparked anger by appointing several Aids dissidents to his advisory panel.

Roughly two thirds of the 34 million people infected with HIV live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Rutman was among the majority of delegates at the conference who accused Mbeki of time-wasting while millions are dying from a disease that threatens Africa's economy.

"These dissidents they always come forward with the same arguments, saying that the virus doesn't exist and things like that. But it has been clarified, we know the virus and it's a controversy which few people could understand," said Rutman.

The next International Aids Conference is scheduled to take place in 2002, in Spain. Rutman says the Durban conference has highlighted what governments, organisations and scientists must do over the next two years.

"We have to work on the vaccines, we have to further prevent the mother-to-child transmission, we still have to improve the existing therapies and we have to promote safe sex. But most important of all, we have to accept the reality and stop the denial -- it is not a question of morals, it's a question of human rights and survival".

by Michael Mullane

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