Breaking the silence surrounding the realities of Aids is the
theme of Aids 2000, the international Aids conference to be
held in Durban this week. But it is likely that Aids 2000 will
be remembered more for the "Durban declaration": a document
signed by 5 000 people testifying in their belief that HIV
The declaration followed the controversies surrounding
President Thabo Mbeki's discussions with the so-called "Aids
dissidents". Mbeki is scheduled to deliver the opening address
at the Aids 2000 opening ceremony.
The hope is that Aids 2000 will see the announcement of
breakthroughs in Aids treatment, drugs and management. There
has also been speculation that it may be used as a platform to
announce dramatic cuts in the price of Aids drugs.
Although the epidemic is a global problem, the siting of the
conference and the fact that sub-Saharan Africa is home to most
of the world's known Aids cases are likely to focus attention
on the continent.
Aids 2000 is the 13th international Aids conference to be held
since 1985 and the first to be held in Africa. It is fitting
that this year's conference is being held in South Africa, a
country with the fastest-known growing HIV epidemic.
The conferences are designed as a forum for people involved in
all aspects of dealing with HIV to get together and discuss
issues. It is considered the place to go to hear the latest
news on the medical, social and ethical aspects of HIV.
This year more than 12 000 people are expected to attend the
conference, which runs formally from July 9 to 15. Satellite
sessions begin on July 7.
Some of the biggest names in the Aids world will be at the
conference. High- profile attendees include:
* David Ho: Described as "a god in the Aids world" by one
doctor, and voted Time Man of the Year in 1995 for his work
relating to the virus.
* Anthony Fauci: Director of the United States National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the
pioneers in understanding how HIV destroys the body's immune
system, among other advances.
* William Makgoba: President of the South African Medical
Research Council and an internationally recognised scientist.
He has played an important role in advancing local vaccine
research and development.
* Geeta Gupta: President of the International Centre for
Research on Women based in Washington, and a leading researcher
on the health and social implications of Aids on women.
* Edwin Cameron: The South African acting Constitutional Court
judge who publicly stated last year that he was HIV- positive.
* Hoosen Coovadia: Chair of the Aids 2000 conference and head
of paediatrics at the University of Natal, and one of South
Africa's most prominent Aids specialists.
The discussions go beyond medicine and science to include
social, political and ethical issues surrounding the Aids
epidemic. A community programme will be running in parallel
with the scientific programme, and there are several satellite
sessions including a joint conference hosted by M�d�cins sans
Fronti�res and the Treatment Action Campaign on increasing
access to drugs.