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13th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa Ends Friday Amid Protests

September 29, 2003

The 13th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa ended on Friday in Nairobi, Kenya, amid protests organized by the Pan-African AIDS Treatment Access Movement, Reuters reports. In the second protest of the week, nearly 100 AIDS advocates disrupted a speech by Leslie Rowe, a diplomat from the U.S. embassy in Nairobi. Advocates said that the United States should donate more funds to the fight against AIDS. "I support their right to freedom of speech," Rowe said, adding that the U.S. government had paid $1 million to help organize the conference (Macharia, Reuters, 9/26). PATAM advocates on Wednesday protested at ICASA, demonstrating in the conference's exhibit hall in front of government, pharmaceutical and donor stands and disrupting a World Bank press conference (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/25). The protests were "given impetus" last week by a World Health Organization/Medecins Sans Frontieres joint report that found that only 1% of the HIV-positive people in sub-Saharan Africa who need antiretroviral drugs are getting them, according to Inter Press Service (Inter Press Service, 9/27). ICASA brought together about 7,000 scientists, social and political leaders from Africa and other parts of the world to discuss trends in the management of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and to come up with strategies to improve access to care (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/25).

Moving on "Three by Five"
U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis on Friday said that the next step following the conference was to implement WHO's goal of treating three million HIV-positive people in developing countries with antiretroviral drugs by 2005 (Reuters, 9/26). WHO Director-General Dr. Jong-Wook Lee last Monday during a U.N. General Assembly special session on HIV/AIDS in New York City announced WHO's renewed commitment to the "three by five" plan and declared the lack of access to antiretroviral drugs a global health emergency. WHO plans to announce by Dec. 1 its new strategy, which will use rapid response techniques to deliver antiretroviral treatment and will provide emergency response teams to governments requesting assistance in expediting drug delivery (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/25). "Now we call (WHO's) bluff," Lewis said, adding, "How are they going to do it, how are they going to choose who to include? Now we hold their feet to the fire and make sure they do it" (Reuters, 9/26). Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, said that the conference will enter history as "the time we began to break the back of the AIDS pandemic," adding that WHO's plan was the highlight of the gathering, according to VOA News (Majtenyi, VOA News, 9/26).

Kenyan Official Dies
The recent death of a senior Kenyan official who is thought to have died of AIDS-related complications has "reinforced the stigma" surrounding the disease, advocates and officials said in "quiet discussions" last week at the conference, the Boston Globe reports. The official's family said he died of a heart attack, and government officials since the beginning of the year have given several reasons for the official's hospitalization, including renal failure, gout and pancreatic disease. However, two Kenyan newspapers had reported that the official was under the care of an AIDS specialist in London. In addition, nearly two weeks ago at an AIDS conference in Chicago, another London-based doctor said that a senior Kenyan official had recently died and that many African officials have sought HIV/AIDS treatment in London, according to Lewis. Members of the ICASA planning committee had discussed naming the event after the late official, according to two people who were at the meeting, the Globe reports. However, Conference Chair D. M. Owili "angrily dismissed the idea," according to the Globe. Gideon Konchella, Kenya's assistant minister of health, said that people had "no business delving into the death," according to the Globe. However, Piot said, "After all these years, one of the main reasons behind the slow response to AIDS is the stigma and shame associated with it. There are too many politicians who have HIV and hide it." He added that numerous prominent Africans have undoubtedly died of AIDS-related illnesses over the last 25 years. But few political leaders have discussed openly the affects of AIDS on their families, according to the Globe (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 9/28).

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