Print version ISSN 0042-9686
Bull World Health Organ vol.82 n.9 Genebra Sep. 2004
Activists drive access to treatment campaign at conference
At the international AIDS conference in Barcelona two years ago, activists smashed the stands of the Group of Eight (G8) richest countries and hecklers drowned out United States Health Secretary Tommy Thompson to press their demands for a sharp increase in AIDS funding.
Since then, donors in particular the United States which has pledged 15 billion dollars have increased spending on HIV/AIDS for developing countries and embraced the idea that treatment must go hand-in-hand with prevention.
Now that treatment is on the way, activists at this year's AIDS conference in Bangkok called on governments to guarantee access to treatment for everyone.
Thailand, the host country, came under fire as activists accused the Thai and other governments of failing to provide adequate treatment and support for HIV-positive intravenous drug users and other vulnerable HIV-positive groups.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela made an impassioned appeal for more support for HIV-positive people with tuberculosis the chief cause of death for people with AIDS in Africa.
Activists called for more to be done to protect women and called for swift development of preventive microbicide products due to come on the market in the next few years.
Armed with banners and whistles, hundreds of activists marched through the Bangkok conference halls calling on the G8 to recognize AIDS is a life-long condition and make recent substantial financial commitments for antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for developing countries a long-term prospect.
Activists also raised concerns about the way science has not kept pace with the epidemic, underscoring lingering uncertainty over how to ensure rapid scale up and coordination of ARV treatment now that the funding is available.
Dr Jim Yong Kim, head of WHO's HIV/AIDS programme, told the conference that although the situation still looked bleak six million people had died and there were 10 million new HIV infections there had been "real progress".
Dr Kim said 20 billion dollars had been pledged for AIDS more than for any other global health campaign in history the cost of ARV drugs has dropped significantly in two years and people in worst-hit regions are more likely to go for an HIV test.
Like many other activists Rolake Nwagwu, 34, an HIV-positive Nigerian attending the Bangkok conference, told the Bulletin that it was her own personal struggle to get treatment that spurred her to campaign for access to health care.
Rolake campaigns in her native country to raise awareness about AIDS by fighting the stigma and discrimination that discourage many Nigerians from being tested for HIV and by fighting for better access to ARV treatment.
Initially Rolake spent all her money on ARV drugs, but broke off treatment because she found like most HIV-positive people in developing countries it was too expensive.
"In the town where I live, AIDS is a taboo. For years I couldn't speak to anybody about how to deal with the disease," Rolake said in reference to the Nigerian town of Kaduna.
Now, she is a campaigner with the Pan-African Treatment Access Movement and writes a popular column entitled: "In Moments Like This Living with HIV" in Nigeria's most widely read newspaper, the Sunday Punch.
"I do what I do not just to help other Nigerians but first, to help myself, and then four million other infected Nigerians. Whatever I do or don't do now will haunt me later when my entire generation dies off and I have no access to affordable health care," Rolake said.
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