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Activists protest
outside U.N. AIDS meeting

Activists protest
outside U.N. AIDS meeting

Protesters draw attention to global failings in fighting the spread of HIV.

More than 1,500 AIDS activists from five continents protested outside United Nations headquarters Wednesday in New York City, where the U.N. is holding a special session on AIDS issues, according to a press release by Health GAP, a U.S.-based advocacy group. The activists expressed outrage that 15 million people have died of complications from AIDS worldwide since the U.N. issued its first AIDS action plan in 2001. The activists are demanding that all countries around the world--including the United States--implement science-based HIV prevention initiatives and expand treatment programs so that those infected with the virus can access lifesaving medication.

The protesters participated in a rally emceed by actress Rosie Perez, who told those gathered that "people living with HIV have a right to the treatment they need, and all communities have a right to effective prevention. It is enraging that despite leaders' promises to provide this, we still have to take to the streets to demand action on these issues."

Sipho Mthathi of South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign, who spoke at the rally, told attendees that global treatment programs must be expanded to stop the rising tide of AIDS deaths worldwide. "There is broad international consensus that we need to commit to 10 million people on treatment by 2010 and that we need major new funding plans to do that," he said. "It is inexcusable that some governments are currently resisting this goal, especially in the wake of their failure to meet the promise of 3 million on treatment by 2005."

The AIDS activists also blasted U.S.-led efforts to replace HIV prevention programs that encourage condom use with abstinence education. They point to recent changes in Uganda's HIV prevention efforts that have de-emphasized condom programs in favor of those that push abstinence as proof of the damage being caused by the Bush administration's anticondom stance. Uganda's HIV rate has doubled since 2003 as a result of the change, AIDS activists say. "Uganda's once-effective HIV prevention programs have been hijacked by ideologically driven religious groups that are largely supported by U.S. dollars," says Beatrice Were of Action Aid Uganda. "These groups are antiwomen and anticondom, oppose teaching people about safer-sex practices, and have fueled a dangerous resurgence of stigma and discrimination against HIV-positive persons."

U.S. prevention efforts also drew the ire of protesters, particularly the lack of needle-exchange programs for injection-drug users. "Here in New York City, infection rates among intravenous drug users declined by 80% in the 10 years since needle-exchange programs have been legalized, yet many people throughout the country are becoming needlessly infected as funding conditionalities undermine prevention," said Jason Farrell, executive director of Positive Health Project.

The U.N. meeting on AIDS issues will continue through Friday in New York. (The Advocate)

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