Governments tackle HIV stigma on World AIDS Day
AFP - Tuesday, December 2
JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - - Governments across the globe pledged Monday to step up the fight against HIV, combatting the stigma associated with the virus and promising to bankroll treatment programmes on the 20th annual World AIDS Day.
US President George W. Bush was to announce his administration had already met its goal of treating two million people living with HIV/AIDS by the end of the year, while his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao visited patients with the virus as part of a government effort to fight discrimination.
In South Africa, the country with the highest number of sufferers in the world, the government was mapping out its AIDS strategy under a new health minister as part of a sea-change in attitudes.
South Africans held a moment of silence at midday as a mark of respect for victims of the virus which has affected some 5.5 million people.
Newly appointed Health Minister Barbara Hogan Monday promised to "urgently scale up" mother-to-child prevention programmes and urged men to test for HIV, the virus that can lead to full-blown AIDS.
"We encourage all men, I repeat all men, to test themselves for HIV to protect themselves and the people they love," Hogan said. "We all know that together we shall overcome."
Celebrities also used their media-drawing power to raise AIDS awareness with celebrated Benin-born singer Angelique Kidjo calling for lifting the stigma still attached to the often fatal disease.
"HIV/AIDS has become a huge issue for my continent and the fight against it must be relentless and determined," Kidjo said in Johannesburg.
In Swaziland, for example, where 26 percent of the adult population is infected with HIV -- the world's highest adult prevalence rate -- the death rate has nearly doubled in the last 15 years due to AIDS, leaving behind a growing number of orphans, a new government report said Monday.
"There is a need in Africa to educate people on the the killer diseases and ailments such as AIDS, malaria, dysentary, cholera," said Kidjo, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and Grammy Award winning singer.
In New York, top rock groups, including Coldplay and The Police, were to premiere songs Monday on a new Internet service raising funds for combating AIDS in Africa.
The exclusive songs, marked the launch of music-charity website red.msn.com.
In Beijing, Hu's visit to a hospital was also designed to strip away some of the stigma attached to the virus and the Chinese leader praised volunteers as an "indispensable force" in the battle against the disease.
"One of the important tasks of volunteers is to spread knowledge about AIDS prevention so that every citizen can have that knowledge," Hu said in a state television report.
"This way, all of society can work together to prevent AIDS."
China along with the United Nations launched a campaign Sunday to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. The world's most populous country has about 700,000 people who are HIV-positive, according to a previously released estimate by the Chinese government and UN health organisations.
However, only about 260,000 have been officially identified as having AIDS.
Other countries also released their AIDS statistics, including Iran which estimated that the Islamic republic has 80,000 HIV cases, four times more than the number of people registered, the state news agency IRNA reported.
In Mynamar, UNICEF said there are approximately 240,000 people living with HIV, of which almost two thirds are under the age of 24.
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown noted that while significant progress has been made in fighting the spread of AIDS the impact of the disease "remains immense", especially in the poorest corners of the globe.
African nations have expressed concern that the world's richest countries grappling with the global economic crisis may cut back on AIDS funding.
But Brown urged world leaders "to hold firm to their promises to improve the health of the poorest, even in the midst of the current economic challenge."
Meanwhile the White House said that Bush's emergency plan for AIDS relief (PEPFAR) had now supported life-saving antiretroviral treatment for over 2.1 million men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS around the world, including more than two million people in Sub Saharan Africa.
The programme provides funding for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis treatment in 15 focus countries among the world's poorest, mainly in Africa.
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