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Swiss join in call for action against Aids

According to UNAids, two million people in sub-Saharan Africa died of the disease in 2005

(Keystone)

Experts from around the world, including 40 Swiss, are meeting in Toronto, Canada, to try to speed up progress in the global fight against HIV/Aids.

The slogan of this year's meeting, "Time to deliver" underscores a widely felt sense of urgency and frustration with present efforts to tackle the disease.

In all, 24,000 experts, health workers, activists, politicians and people living with HIV/Aids have gathered in Toronto for the six-day 16th International Aids Conference, which started on Sunday.

"It's the largest and most important global meeting on HIV/Aids - the one annual meeting you have to attend," Roger Staub, head of the Federal Health Office's Aids unit, told swissinfo.

In May the United Nations said the rate of new infections appeared to be slowing worldwide. It said nearly 40 million people were living with HIV/Aids and that $20 billion (SFr24.2 billion) would be needed each year to fight the disease by 2008.

Staub can see glimmers of hope in the long-term uphill battle against the pandemic but is critical of what he sees as the overbearing influence of United States policy on HIV/Aids.

"Globally we are making slow headway. Many countries are delivering better treatment and care. But we have a few setbacks in prevention due to the dominant influence of the US," he commented.

"The US's ABC approach – abstinence, being faithful and using a condom only when needed – is implemented in lots of countries where CNN strategies – condoms, needles and negotiation – are needed," he said.

"But if you want US money you have to adopt ABC rather than CNN; there is wide consensus that this is not a good thing."

Up to speed

Since the first conference in Atlanta in 1985, four years after Aids was discovered, the biennial meeting has mushroomed.

It has become the ideal forum for sharing experiences and getting up to speed on the latest HIV/Aids policies.

"We are keen to find out what's going on in all scientific fields," explained Staub. "But we also want to share our experiences regarding prevention and treatment standards, where Switzerland has a good reputation."

An example of this is the Swiss HIV Cohort Study, the focus of HIV/Aids-related clinical and therapeutic research in Switzerland.

Delegates from the Swiss Aids Federation will also be in Toronto to learn more about prevention, advocacy and new therapy options, and to highlight Swiss best practices.

"We've been invited to present three campaigns, HIV legal services, HIV and employment, and another on party drugs and HIV infection," Federation spokesman Thomas Lyssy told swissinfo.

Message

The Swiss delegation will also be looking for new ways of reaching homosexual and bisexual men.

In May the Federal Health Office said that while the number of new infections via heterosexual sex and injecting drugs was falling, among gay and bisexual men the rate increased by 34 per cent in 2005.

The Swiss Aids Federation is extremely concerned and is planning a number of new campaigns in the autumn targeting saunas and clubs.

"We want to get closer to that scene and to pass the message that HIV is still a problem and that everyone is responsible for their health. It is important that they practise safer sex," explained Lyssy.

The Health Office is considering obligatory HIV/Aids awareness courses for brothel managers. A brochure is also being produced for homosexual couples, and the authorities and the Federation have set up a taskforce on the issue.

"We mustn't forget heterosexuals and young people. If we don't do the prevention now we'll have a problem in the next generation," said Lyssy.

swissinfo, Simon Bradley

In brief

Of the more than 38 million people living with HIV, 2.8 million people died in 2005, most of them in sub-Sahara Africa where food supplies are scarce and health systems are weak.

65 million people worldwide have contracted Aids since June 1981 and 25 million have died from the disease.

UNAids estimates that about $8.3 billion was spent last year in the treatment, prevention and care of orphans in developing countries, meeting a $7 billion to $10 billion target set five years ago.

According to the Swiss Aids Federation, more than 20,000 men and women live with HIV/Aids in Switzerland. Two people are diagnosed HIV-positive every day.

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Key facts

The 16th International Aids Conference takes place from August 13 - 18 at the Metro Convention Centre in Toronto, Canada.
Over 24,000 delegates are expected to attend from 132 countries, including people living with HIV/Aids, researchers, health workers,activists, politicians, philanthropists and celebrities.
Scientists from around the world are due to present over 4,500 scientific papers.

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