Clinton and Mandela Call for Action on AIDS

Clinton and Mandela Call for Action on AIDS



July 12, 2002, Filed at 11:58 a.m. ET


BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- Former President Clinton and South African leader Nelson Mandela called on world leaders Friday to recognize that the AIDS epidemic is a threat to international peace and economic stability.


``We cannot lose our war against AIDS and win our battle against poverty, promote stability, advance democracy and increase peace and prosperity,'' Clinton told a Barcelona audience that cheered wildly as he and Mandela embraced.


``One hundred million AIDS cases means more terror, more mercenaries, more war, destruction, and the failure of fragile democracies,'' Clinton said at the close of the 14th International AIDS Conference.


Clinton called on governments of rich countries to ``figure out what our share is'' of the yearly $10 billion that the United Nations says is needed to finance global AIDS programs.


He said that America should increase its spending by nearly $2 billion, which would amount to ``less than two months of the Afghan war, less than 3 percent of the requested increase of defense and homeland security budgets.''


Earlier, Clinton expressed remorse about not having done more while he was president to fight the epidemic, apologizing for not supporting needle exchange programs for drug abusers. ``Do I wish I could have done more? Yes, but I do not know that I could have done it,'' he said in an interview with The New York Times.


Mandela, who had tuberculosis while he was imprisoned during the apartheid era, noted that AIDS is claiming more victims ``than all wars and natural disasters.''


``AIDS is a war against humanity ... this is a war that requires the mobilization of entire populations.''


He called for access to HIV-fighting drugs ``for all those that need it, wherever they may be in the world, regardless of whether they can afford it.''


As the largest ever gathering of fighters in the battle against AIDS drew to a close, experts said more determination and more money must be devoted to the worldwide war against the epidemic if the heartless march of HIV across the globe is to be thwarted.


Issues that dominated the weeklong gathering, which drew 15,000 people, included the need to get drugs to more people, the plight of women in HIV-ravaged nations and a honing in on how much the efforts will cost over the next decade.


Experts say that rich nations need to donate $10 billion a year. Current spending stands at about $2.8 billion. As always, the call for more money to finance work in the developing world was a major focus.


Nobody wrote a fat check. But the German government pledged another $50 million to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on the last day of the conference. The next such gathering is set for Thailand in 2004


Seth Berkley, president of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, called the Barcelona conference ``a splash of cold water'' on how the world is doing in the fight against AIDS.


Expectations that there would be widespread access to anti-AIDS drugs in poor countries were shattered by a U.N. report, released the week before the conference, saying only 30,000 people were taking the drugs in sub-Saharan Africa, Berkley said.


In the developing world as a whole, less than 1 percent of people infected with the AIDS virus are receiving drug treatment, according to a recent World Health Organization report.


African doctors said one of the issues not discussed at the conference was that in many cases, HIV patients resell their drugs to villagers to get money for food and that the buyers do not know how to take the medicines properly.


On the science side, favorable results with a new type of drug was good news for patients whose infections have become resistant to all current treatments -- offering lifesaving treatment for those who have run out of options.


However, concerns were raised by a report of an American HIV patient who had become infected again with a similar strain of the virus, causing a superinfection -- untouched by all the drugs.


There were also new findings making it even more unlikely that it will ever be possible to eradicate the virus from the body once it has invaded.


There is still no cure and no preventive vaccine on the horizon.


``That makes the case for prevention stronger than ever,'' said Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, deputy HIV chief at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ``We have to be careful not to let prevention be overshadowed by the significant treatment issues.


``Lets reinvigorate our efforts and approach this epidemic the way we did in the 1980s and 1990s, where we did see a tremendous change in behavior and decreases in transmission,'' Valdiserri said.


New statistics revealed how the epidemic is evolving globally -- experts predicted increasing numbers of AIDS orphans, a rising proportion of new infections in young people and a shift toward a majority of infections occurring in young women.



Copyright 2002 The Associated Press