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UN Envoy Slams G-8 Countries for Breaking Promises on AIDS
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Stephen Lewis, the UN Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa, on Friday slammed the G-8 countries for not living up to AIDS funding promises, when wrapping up the week-long international conference on the epidemic.

Lewis, whose term concludes at the end of this year, also insisted in a strongly worded keynote speech that the tragic spread of HIV cannot be stemmed until gender inequality was righted.

"It's the one area of HIV and AIDS that leaves me feeling most helpless and most enraged."

Expansion of programs to deliver life-saving HIV drugs to those in need in developed and developing countries was growing at a moderate rate, he said.

But the costs of striving towards universal access for all in need were enormous and it was not clear where the funds will come from, he said.

"We are on the cusp of a huge financial crisis,'' Lewis warned the gathering, noting that the G-8 countries have not lived up to the pledging promises they made to the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria at their 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.

"No one is asking for any more than was promised,'' he said. "Everything in the battle against AIDS is being jeopardized by the G8.''

He went on to call upon conference delegates - estimated at 31,000 from 140 countries - to hold people and governments accountable and not to let the G8 "off the hook."

During its six days, the conference drew a number of high-profile speakers, including former US president Bill Clinton and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Dr. Mark Wainberg, Canadian co-chair of the conference, said the conference has presented groundbreaking science, lots of information and new drugs and prevention strategies "giving hope to the future."

"We have shown here this week that partnerships that link science, medicine, community and political activism can translate into action."

Anders Nordstrom, acting director general of the World Health Organization, highlighted three key elements to conquering the disease: money, medicines and a motivated workforce.

He said more funding was needed for HIV/AIDS programs, access to drugs worldwide needs to be improved, and most importantly, more health workers were required.

"There are too few people with the right skills," said Nordstrom." More people registered to attend this conference than there are doctors in the whole of Eastern and Central Africa."

The closing festivities also included cultural performances and a handover ceremony with Toronto Mayor David Miller and Julio Frenk, Mexico's minister of health.

The next International AIDS Conference will be in 2008 in Mexico City.

According to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), at the end of 2005 an estimated 39 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS, the vast majority in developing countries.

The virulent virus -- for which scientists have yet to develop a vaccine -- has killed an estimated 25 million people since the first cases of HIV were reported 25 years ago.

(Xinhua News Agency August 19, 2006)


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