Government Leaders Attend First Political AIDS Summit With AM-Haiti-AIDS
PARIS (AP) _ Delegates from 42 nations, gathering for the first political summit on AIDS, hope to correct an imbalance that channels more than 90 percent of AIDS funding to wealthy nations that have only a fraction of the victims.
The one-day international summit on Thursday, hosted by France and the World Health Organization, seeks to improve cooperation in fighting the disease and reduce discrimination against its victims.
Twelve prime ministers and 17 health ministers, including U.S. Health Secretary Donna E. Shalala, will convene at U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization headquarters for the summit, a focal point of World AIDS Day.
The day will be marked around the world by symposiums, fund-raising events and efforts to increase awareness of the disease.
Saudi Arabia, which rarely reports cases of AIDS, is hosting its own international conference. Prince Sattam ibn Abdel-Aziz said in Riyadh Tuesday that education based on the ″principles of Islam″ could counter the disease.
Money-raising events in the Netherlands include a 24-hour dance marathon. Greeks have been asked to place a candle in their windows as a show of support for AIDS victims. In China, government-run newspapers plan a competition about preventing AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
It is the first AIDS Day in South Africa under a multiracial government, and President Nelson Mandela urged the nation to combat the disease.
″AIDS knows no custom. It knows no color. It knows no boundaries,″ he said. ″ We have to work together wherever we are to preserve our nation, our continent and humanity as a whole.″
A non-binding declaration drafted for the Paris summit pledges to promote international cooperation in research, partnerships between public and private sectors and increased safeguards for blood transfusions.
Participants will vow to reach out to children and ″empower women ... to reduce their vulnerability″ by engaging them more in policy-making.
France recently announced it would increase its aid to international agencies that fight AIDS by more than tenfold to $25 million.
Currently, however, an estimated 92 percent of the money pledged to fight AIDS goes toward helping 8 percent of those afflicted in developed countries.
Africa is by far the hardest hit continent: Of the 17 million people known to be infected with the HIV virus, about two-thirds are in Africa.
Some AIDS activists are accusing the summit of sidestepping crucial issues such as discrimination against homosexuals.
Governments must end human rights violations in countries where AIDS patients are isolated in colonies or prisons, said Arnaud Marty-Lavauzelle of the group AIDES.
He said countries must abolish rules that prohibit entry to AIDS victims and repeal laws against homosexuality, drug use and prostitution.
″After 14 years of epidemic, these measures constitute the minimum needed by the victims of the virus,″ he said.
The statistics are sobering.
WHO estimates more than 4 million people have died from AIDS; 17 million are infected with the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
More than 5 million children will have lost one or both parents to AIDS by the year 2000 and deaths from AIDS could reach 10 million by then.
″This summit illustrates the will of the global family to redouble its efforts against the disease,″ WHO Director General Hiroshi Nakajima said Tuesday.
French Premier Edouard Balladur and U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros- Ghali are among those who will give speeches at the opening session.
Delegates include the prime ministers of Belgium, Burundi, Canada, Cameroon, Djibouti, Finland, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Portugal, Senegal and Uganda.