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AIDS Conference Opens With Call for Global Action

Peter Piot, head of the United Nations AIDS agency, told 15,000 people at the opening ceremony, ”The world stood by while AIDS overwhelmed sub-Saharan Africa. Never again.”

“We cannot stand by as passive observers while other continents repeat history, and we must not fail Africa now.”

Piot’s agency reported last week that AIDS will kill 70 million people over the next 20 years unless wealthy nations step up their efforts to combat the disease. More than 40 million people worldwide already have AIDS or the virus that causes AIDS, a jump of six million in the last two years.

Despite the dire numbers, Piot said there was the ability to treat millions more with effective drug regimens, but that it would take a major commitment from the industrialized world.

“Treatment is technically feasible in every part of the world … It’s not knowledge that’s the barrier. It’s political will,” Piot said.

Experts attending the conference said it would be possible to launch a “credible” response to the disease and greatly affect the number of new infections if the world were prepared to spend $10 billion a year. Thus far, industrialized nations have pledged less than a third of that amount

“The response of donors to date is appalling. The $10 billion a year needed to combat AIDS is equivalent to just four days global military spending or what rich countries spend on agricultural subsidies in 10 days,” Mogha Smith, of the British non-governmental aid agency Oxfam, told Reuters.

Piot warned that the worse may be yet to come.

“From a historical perspective, we are still in the early days of the epidemic,” Piot told the Associated Press. “There are no indications that the AIDS epidemic is leveling off, not even in the most affected countries.”

The UN chief also warned the political repercussions of the disease were only now becoming evident.

“AIDS is starting to destabilize entire nations in Africa. A destabilized part of the world, however far away it may be from where you are is having an impact on your own country,” he said.