AIDS Activists Urge Protection of Women; Religion's Role in Epidemic Debated

Article excerpt

The 16th International AIDS Conference ended Aug. 18 in Toronto with calls for more funding for global AIDS intervention programs, as well as for immediate, universal and equitable access to HIV/AIDS prevention, care, treatment and research for women and girls worldwide.

Dr. Mark Wainberg, local host board chair and director of McGill University's AIDS Centre, urged conference delegates to redouble their efforts in turning the tide against AIDS. "Indeed, we will have failed unless we dramatically and rapidly expand by millions the numbers of people around the world with access to antiretroviral drugs and simultaneously scale up prevention," he said. "Progress cannot be achieved if more people become infected by HIV each year than the numbers that are able to access treatment." Only 1.6 million of 6.8 million people or 24 per cent of people living with HIV in developing countries have access to antiretroviral drugs that can prolong the life of those infected with the virus.

In 2005, about 39 million people Worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS, according to UNAIDS. Last year, there were 4.1 million new HIV infections; 2.8 million died of AIDS-related illnesses. More than 20 million people have died of AIDS since it was first identified in 1981.

The conference was attended by about 27,000 delegates from around the world. Also present were representatives of churches and church-based organizations, including the Anglican Church of Canada and its partners.

An issue that gained prominence in the weeklong conference was the need to empower women in the fight to end AIDS.

In his closing address, United Nations special envoy on HIV/AIDS for Africa Stephen Lewis blasted governments and institutions like the UN for the continued "diminution of the fights of women," and said that as long as men "control the bastions of power" AIDS will not be broken. "We will never subdue AIDS until the rights of women become part of the struggle," said Mr. Lewis.

Mr. Lewis stated unequivocally that abstinence-only education programs to combat HIV/AIDS "do not work." He also criticized the U.S. government, which last year imposed a condition that countries receiving federal AIDS grants must sign a statement condemning prostitution. Last Year, Brazil refused such a grant amounting to $48 million, stating that HIV/AIDS education must include sex workers.

Telling a government how to allocate aid is a "throwback to yesteryear" said Mr. Lewis, adding, "That approach has a name: neo-colonialism."

Bill Gates, the world's richest man, also took up the fight for women, saying abstinence and being faithful are not enough to stem the pandemic. …