Saturday, December 1, 2007

world aids day

PARIS (AFP) ― Activists used World AIDS Day on Saturday to warn against complacency in fighting the disease and to call on governments fill a multi-billion-dollar funding gap.

"We have made tangible and remarkable progress on all these fronts. But we must do more," United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a message for World AIDS Day.

"Although new data shows that global HIV prevalence has levelled off, the numbers are still staggering," Ban said.

Since the first World AIDS Day in 1988 there has been progress in levelling off the percentage of the world's population living with HIV and AIDS from a peak in the late 1990s, the UN AIDS programme UNAIDS said last month.

The tally of new infections fell to an estimated 2.5 million in 2007 from 3.0 million in the late 1990s, it added.

Efforts to bring antiretroviral drugs to sub-Saharan Africa, where more than two-thirds of the people with HIV/AIDS live, are now bearing some fruit, it said.

But with 33.2 million people around the world estimated to be living with AIDS and 2.1 million deaths in 2007, campaigners warn that there is still a very long way to go.

"Despite substantial progress against AIDS worldwide, we are still losing ground," said James Shelton of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in a commentary in the medical journal The Lancet on Saturday.

Treatment is still only available to about 10 percent of those in need, he said, while in developing countries, "the number of new infections continues to dwarf the numbers who start antiretroviral therapy in developing countries."

One of the biggest areas of concern is funding.

According to the UN, there is currently an eight-billion-dollar shortfall in resources to fight AIDS.

On the 20th World AIDS Day, the campaign to prevent HIV/AIDS and combat discrimination is being publicized across China with the aim of raising public awareness about the virus, which was previously linked to "immoral conduct" in the country.

In cities like Beijing and Shanghai, people distributed AIDS prevention brochures along the streets and promoted the use of condoms.

In Changsha, capital of Hunan Province in central China, more than 40,000 official warning signs were put on the bedstand of 120 hotels across the city.

In Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, hundreds of volunteers delivered brochures to more than 15,000 homosexuals in colleges, gay bars and residential districts over the past two years.

In the eastern city of Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province, people flew kites embroidered with red ribbons in front of the railway stations.

By the end of October 2007, a total of 223,501 people had been officially reported to have contracted HIV, including 62,838 AIDS patients, according to an appraisal report by the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS.

Though the rate of AIDS growth has slowed down, the government has admitted the situation remains grave in the country with a population of 1.3 billion. Official reports say there are estimated to be as many as 700,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in China.

The Ministry of Finance announced Friday that 860 million yuan (114 million U.S. dollars) would be allocated from the central budget for AIDS prevention and control.

Statistics show Chinese government has allocated 3.81 billion yuan (508 million dollars) since 2003 to combat AIDS.
To meet the Group of Eight (G8) goal of providing universal access to ARVs by 2010, 42 billion dollars will be needed. So far, only 15.4 billion is in the kitty.

US President George W. Bush marked the day by repeating his call on US lawmakers to double support for anti-AIDS programmes to 30 billion dollars over five years.

The highlight of events marking World AIDS Day around the world was the concert in Johannesburg organised by Nelson Mandela's 46664 AIDS campaign group -- named after his old prison number.

An estimated 50,000 people attended the concert of local and foreign artists including Peter Gabriel and Annie Lennox, broadcast to millions around the world. Mandela himself was also due to put in a rare appearance.

South Africa has the world's worst rate of HIV, according to recent UN statistics, with around 5.5 million people infected out of a population of 48 million.

Chinese President Hu Jintao was on front pages of state newspapers shaking the hand of a woman HIV carrier the day after the UN warned up to 50 million Chinese were at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.

Elsewhere in China, UNAIDS and the China Red Cross Foundation have organised a "Great AIDS Walk" on the Great Wall for Sunday to raise awareness.

In Australia, campaigners warned that complacency after earlier success in fighting HIV/AIDS risked giving rise to a new wave of infections.

"This is the moment it all could go astray. This is the moment when it can become a pandemic," said AIDS awareness educator Vince Lovegrove.

Indonesia -- which the UN says has Asia's fastest growing HIV epidemic -- marked the day with the launch of its first national campaign to promote the use of condoms.

And in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, several dozen AIDS activists observed a minute of silence to remember the 12,000 Ukrainians who have died of AIDS in two decades.

Some stood with their mouths taped to protest what they say is the government's silence about Ukraine's growing HIV and AIDS problem.

During the first ten months of the year, close to 14,500 new HIV cases were reported, prompting UN AIDS officials to warn that Ukraine's HIV epidemic was the most severe in Europe.

In Rome a large free concert was planned and the Coliseum was due to be illuminated in the evening. Some pharmacies were handing out free condoms.

In Stockholm bishops of the Protestant Church of Sweden called on religious leaders around the world to promote the use of condoms, while in Athens several hundred people staged a march on Friday evening.

In Brussels EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou called for a pan-European effort to spread raise awareness of HIV/AIDS among young Europeans.

Even the Miss World beauty pageant on the Chinese holiday island of Sanya was enlisted to get out the message that the disease daily kills some 6,000 people.


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