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
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
"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
"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
MAKE A DIFFERENCE"
The theme of the 13th World AIDS Day, a global campaign to
improve public awareness of HIV and AIDS issues, is "men make a
"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
"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.
SPREADING LIKE WILDFIRE
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
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