- AIDS - Bill Clinton - Mexico
Former US president Bill Clinton delivered a rousing speech to thousands of delegates at a world AIDS conference in Mexico City Monday, but warned that the battle against the disease was far from over.
"AIDS is a very big dragon. The mythological dragon was slain by Saint George, the original knight in shining armor, but this dragon must be slain by millions and millions of foot soldiers," he told activists gathered at the 17th International AIDS Conference in Mexico City.
Clinton remained unfazed as a silent crowd of demonstrators holding banners calling for housing for people with HIV walked in front of the podium.
He used the moment to underline how rising oil, food prices and the mortgage crisis further complicated the lives of people with HIV, to loud applause.
A veteran AIDS campaigner, Clinton echoed warnings from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Peter Piot, executive director of the UN agency UNAIDS, at the opening of the conference on Sunday.
There was "no silver bullet" to rid the world of the disease, he said.
"We know there is so much yet to be done: to expand prevention, treatment and care, to strengthen undeveloped health systems," he said.
More than 22,000 scientists, policymakers and field workers are attending the meeting, making it the second largest conference in the history of the disease, and the largest in a developing country.
Funding, access to treatment, beefing up prevention against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and an array of social evils from stigma to violence against women are the headline issues.
On the pharmacological front, delegates do not expect any breakthrough announcement in the arena of new drugs, and the news is likely to be grim about the frustrating search for a preventative vaccine and an HIV-thwarting vaginal gel.
The UN General Assembly and the Group of Eight (G8) have set the goal of achieving universal access to treatment and therapy by 2010.
But despite a big scaleup in the past two years, less than a third of all people in developing countries who need the drugs have been able to access them.
"As the fight against AIDS nears the end of its third decade, we are still facing a huge shortfall in resources," Ban warned Monday.
Clinton, however, hailed the approval by the US Congress and signing by President George W. Bush last week of legislation tripling funds to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis to 48 billion dollars over five years in the world's poorest countries, mainly in Africa.
"This is a stunning development for which we should all be grateful," he said.
Clinton, who has championed price cuts for antiretroviral therapy that now keeps three million poor, badly infected people alive, was a star presence at the meeting, also attended by Ban and Mexican President Felipe Calderon, both of whom he praised for speaking out against discrimination.
He flew to Mexico City overnight from Africa, where he had been visiting projects funded by the Clinton Foundation to fight AIDS and malaria.
"Today 1.4 million people with AIDS are using treatments purchased by the Clinton Foundation," he said. "Thanks to the efforts of our partners, they cost about 120 dollars a year."
According to UNAIDS, around 10 billion dollars was spent last year fighting AIDS in poor countries, a massive rise compared with the start of the decade but still more than eight billion dollars short of what was needed.
Just to maintain the current pace of drug scaleup means that funding will have to rise by 50 percent by 2010, but this will still be far short of the target of universal access, UNAIDS said in updated report last week.
More than 25 million people have died from AIDS since the disease first emerged in 1981, and 33 million people today are living with HIV, two-thirds of them in sub-Saharan Africa.