Bill and Melinda Gates, who have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to fighting HIV/AIDS, say while progress has been made against the pandemic, much more needs to be done. They spoke Sunday at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto. VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua attended the forum.
Bill Gates says if the world is going to have a chance of slowing the pandemic, a lot more emphasis will have to be placed on prevention.
“We’ll never be able to deal with the numbers of people that would have to go on treatment if we don’t make a dramatic breakthrough in prevention.”
He says one area where hope lies in improving prevention is the development of microbicides. These are generally gels or creams that would block HIV infection during sex.
“We hope and expect that this could be the next big breakthrough. And it’ll take a lot of diligence to drive that forward to actually get that available in the years ahead. It’s particularly important because it would benefit women, who largely today have to rely on men to agree on abstinence or condom use. And that simply isn’t getting the job done. A woman should never need her partner’s permission to save her own life.”
Melinda Gates also stressed the need to empower women.
“That is going to be the way to change this epidemic. We are strong supporters of the HIV Vaccine Enterprise and have been for some time. We continue to be. But we’re realistic that that is a long term solution to this epidemic.”
She says more “aggressive” efforts are needed to get existing, proven tools to everyone who needs them.
“Today, fewer than one in five people, who are at high risk of HIV, have access to things like condoms, clean needles, education and testing. That’s something that simply needs to change.”
Melinda Gates says that’s the biggest reason why there are four million new infections every year.
She describes the amount of stigma and discrimination that still exists against those who are HIV positive as “shocking.”
“When Bill and I visit different countries in Africa and India, the government welcomes us, often with open arms with lots of meetings and lots of praise for what’s going on in HIV/AIDS. But when we go out to visit the sex workers they won’t go with us because they don’t want to be associated with that part of the disease. And we have to as a world face that part of what’s going on to be able to help the whole human family.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently gave a five year, $500 million donation to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
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