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Mandela's AIDS Day Plea Echoes Around World


LONDON (Reuters) - Former South African President Nelson Mandela led World AIDS events on Friday with a passionate plea to people to use condoms and destigmatise HIV/AIDS in a message that reverberated around the world.

No corner of the globe is untouched by the illness which has been described as the most catastrophic health crisis of our time.

With 36.1 million people living with the virus and an estimated 5.3 million new infections in the last year alone, Mandela's plea for safe sex, openness and compassion carried a universal message.

"Be faithful to one partner and use a condom... Let us take precautionary measures. Give a child love, laughter and peace, not AIDS," he said in a World AIDS Day address.

South Africa has a high and growing rate of AIDS, which already infects one in ten of its population.

A reluctance to talk about HIV, much less admit having it, coupled with poverty and ignorance, are fuelling the spread of HIV/AIDS in the developing world, areas worst affected by the epidemic. In wealthier nations the problem is one of growing complacency.

"Leaders in all spheres who are living with HIV should be encouraged, not coerced, to lead by example and disclose their HIV status," said Mandela. "MEN


The theme of the 13th World AIDS Day, a global campaign to improve public awareness of HIV and AIDS issues, is "men make a difference."

"Men are truly the driving force behind this epidemic, when it comes to injecting drug-use the majority are men, but also in terms of homosexual and heterosexual transmission it is male behaviour that plays a dominant role," Dr. Peter Piot, the head of the UN agency leading the battle against the global epidemic, told Reuters.

"There is a need for major behaviour changes when it comes to male sexual behaviour," he added.

Rock concerts were set to convey the message to young people--one of the most vulnerable groups--in Laos, Russia, the Ukraine, Belize and China.

"Condom buses" crawled through the streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam distributing condoms. Caravans touting safe sex messages travelled through Romania, Niger and Chad and an AIDS awareness train reached remoter parts of China.

Sub-Saharan Africa, with 25.3 million HIV/AIDS sufferers, is the epicenter of the epidemic. AIDS- related diseases killed 2.4 million people in Africa this year--more than those killed by war, famine and flood combined.

Experts now fear the epidemic is heading East and that China and India with their huge populations will be most vulnerable.

"We have a major challenge over the next five years as this virus moves into the large demographic countries of Asia," said Gordon Alexander, senior programme adviser for UNAIDS in India.

The United Nations says China is on the "fast track" to an AIDS epidemic. Its estimated 600,000 HIV/AIDS cases could grow to 10 million or more by 2010 unless the country acts decisively and soon.

"China needs to do a lot more," to promote condoms and sex education, Edwin Judd, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) representative in China, told Reuters.


Most of the World AIDS Day events around the globe, whether candlelight vigils, rallies, celebrity charity galas or Internet launches, are focusing on breaking down the taboos and stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and prevention--vital elements to defeat the virus.

"We must recognise that for most of the time the pandemic was spreading like wildfire, we were in a state of denial about HIV/AIDS," said Mandela. Antiretroviral drugs that prevent the virus from replicating in the body will also play a role. Progress was made in May when an initiative was announced to get drugs to the people who can least afford them.

International drug companies were set to announce a deal on Friday with Uganda to supply anti-AIDS drugs at reduced prices. It is the second deal, after a similar pact with Senegal last month, in the initiative by five major drug companies to slash the prices of the drugs for poor African countries. without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.


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Information in this article was accurate in December 1, 2000. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.