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Mandela closes AIDS conference with cry for cash

Mandela closes AIDS conference with cry for cash

Nelson Mandela made an impassioned plea on Friday for cash and cooperation to fight HIV after a week of discord at the world's biggest AIDS conference over Washington's go-it-alone approach. "History will surely judge us harshly if we do not respond with all the energy and resources that we can bring to bear in the fight against AIDS," said the frail former South African president, who turns 86 on Sunday. Wrapping up the weeklong 15th International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Mandela urged the world's rich countries to make good on financial promises to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, launched in 2002. "We need to build the public-private partnership that is the vision of the Global Fund. We challenge everyone to help fund the fund now," said the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and one of the world's leading AIDS campaigners. "Allow me to enjoy my retirement by showing you can rise to the challenge." The global fund, the brainchild of United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan to present a global unified force against HIV and AIDS, needs more than $3 billion for 2005. Washington has ruled out raising its contribution to the fund beyond $200 million already committed for next year, saying it is already spending more to combat AIDS than the rest of the world put together. Despite criticism from all sides--including Mandela and Annan--of its moral agenda, trade policy, and funding guidelines, the United States insists it is leading the fight against AIDS, which has claimed 20 million lives and infected twice as many. Randall Tobias, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator who was heckled and booed, said the forum, which started as a gathering of AIDS scientists in 1985, had been hijacked by single interest activist groups to the detriment of open and productive debate. "One of the tragedies of the culture that's developed around this conference is that a relatively small number of people have commanded a very disproportionate share of attention," he said. "As a result of that, attention is not being directed at the other aspects of the conference where people could be exchanging ideas, I think, a little more efficiently than perhaps takes place." Science took a back seat at the meeting, but as the clean-up crews moved in behind the 19,843 delegates, activists hoped it had still served as a rallying point against AIDS--especially in Asia, home to 60% of humanity and a quarter of all new infections. "This conference is about mobilizing Asia to not go down the route that Africa has gone," said leading South African AIDS campaigner Zackie Achmat of the Treatment Action Campaign. India, home to 5.1 million AIDS sufferers--the world's second highest after South Africa--was finally getting the message after years of criticism over foot-dragging and denial, said ruling Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi. "I have met people who have lost their jobs, who are ostracized by their communities, who can no longer hope to raise and bear healthy children," Gandhi told the closing ceremony. "Today, let us renew our commitment to work together to find new ways of reaching out with compassion to the millions of men, women, and children who are the tragic victims of the physical and social devastation caused by HIV/AIDS." The next AIDS summit, already under pressure to curb costs from this year's $17 million and cut its entry fee of $1,000 per delegate, is due to be held in Toronto in 2006. By then, the world's leaders want to see the number of people receiving antiretroviral drugs in the developing world in the millions, compared to the 440,000 on treatment now. The World Health Organization has set a goal of getting the medicines--which keep the virus at bay, but are not a cure--to 3 million people by the end of 2005. (Reuters)

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