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Activists note
successes and failures during World AIDS Day

Activists note
successes and failures during World AIDS Day


Communities across the globe are marking World AIDS Day with vigils, workshops, protests, and calls for increased prevention and treatment programs. In the United States, President Bush saluted gays for their HIV education and prevention work and touted the success of his administration in fighting the disease.

Communities around the planet marked World AIDS Day on Thursday with candlelight vigils, workshops, protests, and speeches by AIDS leaders, while in the United States, President Bush both saluted the efforts of gay men and lesbians in fighting the disease and lavished praise on his administration for its successes in fighting the disease in poor nations. In a speech, Bush said gays have played a key role in slowing the spread of the disease among Americans.

"HIV/AIDS remains a special concern in the gay community, which has effectively fought this disease for decades through education and prevention," he said. Bush also called for Congress to reauthorize the Ryan White Act, the federal measure that funds HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support programs across the country. The act expired at the end of September; Congress is expected to address its reauthorization next year.

But most of Bush's speech was spent touting the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which he says has helped 400,000 HIV-positive people in sub-Saharan Africa get access to lifesaving antiretroviral treatment, particularly those living in Uganda, Kenya, Botswana, and Namibia. "These countries, and many others, are fighting for the lives of their citizens, and America is now their strongest partner in that fight," he said.

However, Africa Action, an AIDS activist group, marked World AIDS Day by noting that the United States and other wealthy nations haven't moved quickly enough or contributed enough money to get anti-HIV drugs to the millions of poor HIVers worldwide who need them. "In Africa, where more than 25 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, access to antiretroviral treatment is a matter of life and death," said Salih Booker, Africa Action's executive director. "But the prices charged by pharmaceutical companies, and the policies pursued by rich countries at their behest, continue to keep lifesaving treatment out of reach for those most affected by HIV/AIDS."

Even in the United States, HIV treatment remains out of the financial reach of many HIV-positive people, said the HIV Medicine Association in a World AIDS Day press statement. "It is important to acknowledge that thousands of Americans with HIV/AIDS cannot afford good medical care or lifesaving drugs," says HIVMA executive director Daniel R. Kuritzkes. "Funding for the safety net that has changed HIV/AIDS from a death sentence to a treatable disease here in America has not kept pace with the needs of the epidemic. There are clear signs that safety net is fraying."

Kuritzkes points out that among the most problematic domestic AIDS issues are that Congress had flat-funded the Ryan White Act for the past five years; that more than 2,000 people currently are on waiting lists for AIDS Drug Assistance Programs around the country; that Medicaid, the nation's largest provider of HIV services, is slated for $11 billion in federal funding cuts; and that the proposed budget for the National Institutes of Health is inadequate to keep pace with scientific developments in HIV research.

In Africa, the continent hit hardest by AIDS, most nations held official events to commemorate World AIDS Day and to highlight the increasing need for help from Western governments to fund HIV prevention and treatment programs, particularly in AIDS-ravaged sub-Saharan Africa, home to 26 million HIV-positive people. Nigeria's president started his day with a morning jog with HIV patients to help dispel the stigma associated with AIDS in the country, while in Lesotho health officials launched the world's first door-to-door national HIV antibody testing campaign.

However, in Swaziland, where nearly 40% of the nation's adults are HIV-positive, King Mswati--often criticized for not doing more to promote monogamy and condom use in the nation--canceled all World AIDS Day events. And in South Africa, home to more than 5 million HIV-positive people, the most of any country in the world, health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang--called "Dr. No" by AIDS activists because of her opposition to antiretroviral drugs--repeated her support of eating carrots, spinach, beetroot, and garlic as the preferred way for HIV-positive people to fight their infections.

AIDS activists in Buenos Aires covered a large obelisk in the center of the city with a huge condom to highlight the effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually acquired HIV infections. (

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