The 17th International AIDS Conference got underway in Mexico
City Sunday and will continue through Friday. Along with government
officials, private non-profit groups and medical researchers, the
conference has drawn activists and representatives of grassroots groups
from around the world. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Mexico City,
most of their focus is on better treatment for those infected with the
HIV virus that causes AIDS as well as prevention.
formal sessions continue inside the conference hall, most of the
activists andgroups with a specific agenda congregate under a huge
tented area called the Global Village. Among the groups represented are
national AIDS foundations, various organizations that work with
HIV-infected people and their families, and advocates of various
programs that could help prevent the virus from spreading.
of the more vocal groups is a coalition of sex workers and sex worker
unions from various countries. They advocate safer sex practices, the
use of condoms and legalization of their trade as ways of combating the
Rachel is a sex worker who came here from Australia,
where her profession is legal and subject to taxes and regulations. She
says involving sex workers in government health programs is better than
stigmatizing them as potential disease carriers.
"Sex workers are part
of the solution, we are not the problem. Like we always say, there
should be nothing about us without us. If people are really serious
about combating HIV and want to increase the levels of education and
adherence to best sex practices, sex workers need to be included at all
levels," she said.
Rachel says countries that legalize
prostitution, which she prefers to call sex work, have better health
conditions and are better able to control the spread of AIDS and other
Condom use is important in AIDS prevention
One of the most important tools
in preventing AIDS from being transmitted through sexual activity is
the condom. Caitlin Delaney works with a Canada-based organization that
promotes the use of condoms through an animated cartoon featuring three
condoms called the Three Amigos. The video is available in some 40
languages, with each one tailored to the cultural sensitivities of the
Delaney says the conference here in Mexico
has provided an opportunity to work with other groups seeking the same
"The value of coming to Mexico for us is that we are
able to network with people whom we would never be in contact with.
Here we get to talk with scientists and researchers and share what we
are doing and what they are doing," Delaney said.
people from some countries are more open than others to the humorous
approach her video utilizes. Such campaigns have been criticized by
conservatives around the world who believe promoting the use of condoms
is a way of promoting sexual promiscuity. But Delaney says the reality
of AIDS and its devastating toll provides urgency to efforts to promote
"Until there is a cure, prevention is the only way to deal
with not getting AIDS and also, too, it is important that when you are
infected that you still work with prevention and the best way to do
that is with a condom," she said.
Education is essential to reduce HIV infection rate
Health professionals attending the
conference agree that the use of condoms is an effective prevention
tool. Studies show that condoms have up to 90 percent efficacy in
preventing the transmission of the HIV virus.
Comenge has worked in public health projects in Latin America and
Africa for Population Services International, a non-profit organization
that promotes health education. He says no one should assume that they
are 100 percent protected by a condom.
"A condom can break or people
can not use them properly, but if you use them correctly and use them
all the time, you are well protected against AIDS and other sexually
transmitted diseases," he said.
Llados Comenge says one of the
biggest problems he has seen in developing nations is inconsistent use
of condoms. He says a sex worker who insists that her clients use
condoms, for example, may not be as insistent with a boyfriend or
Participants in this conference say coming together
in one place for a week of discussions and sharing of information
provides mutual encouragement and new approaches to combating the
scourge of AIDS.