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A Preview Of AIDS 2004 - 2003-11-20


The world’s largest meeting on HIV/AIDS will be held in Thailand next July. And a leading organizer says the conference expects to follow through on its theme: Access for All.

The Access for All theme refers to treatment and prevention programs being available to all who need them. Senator Mechai Viravaidya is the co-chair of the Community Program Committee for the Bangkok conference. He is also founder and chairman of the Population and Community Development Association. The Kaiser Family Foundation talked with Senator Mechai and posted the interview on its web site. The senator says the 15th International AIDS Conference will put less stress on talk and more on action.

"We will have by that time a very clear pilot demonstration, whereby Thailand will be providing drugs – ARV’s (anti-retrovirals) – for people from three neighboring countries - Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Cambodia – who will walk over the border to come and get drugs supplied by Thailand, by the Thai government. This will be funded by the government, some NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and some business."

Senator Mechai says the conference is expected to generate a profit or surplus, with half going to buy more anti-retroviral drugs.

He says at recent AIDS conferences there was a lot of discussion about prevention of HIV, but little emphasis on condoms. That will change in Bangkok.

"For instance, when you land at the airport, we hope that when an immigration officer stamps your passport, they’ll also slip in a condom into your passport. Just to remind you, you’re here and this is something preventable. Then we will have a program where policemen will work with traffic, stop traffic and give out condoms. We call that our cops and rubbers program."

That’s right, he did call it the “cops and rubbers” program.

Health officials say Asia still has a chance to avoid the fate of sub-Saharan Africa, where three-quarters of the 44-million people with HIV/AIDS reside. Senator Mechai says delegates will realize that Thailand has taken the problem seriously.

"Well what they will hear is that Asia is expanding extremely rapidly in terms of HIV. And action really needs to be taken. That’s number one. And what they will see in Thailand is here’s a country that became serious about it, no more denial, and action was really taken. We’ve seen over the last twelve years a ninety percent decline in new cases of HIV."

The 15th International AIDS Conference runs from July 11th to the 16th, 2004. That means it will be very hot and possibly very wet. And traffic is usually horrendous. But Mechai Viravaidya says he expects Bangkok to be visitor friendly.

"There’ll be special plans for traffic. All schools in Bangkok are going to have a holiday, so traffic will be considerably less. And people will be delighted to find out that they can get out there in very rapid time. We also have the elevated rail to also supplement for those who wish to go by bus or by car. It should be pretty good and I think they’re going to have a great time. They’ll leave Bangkok and say, that’s what an AIDS conference is going to be like in the future."

The conference organizer is not without a sense a humor. To promote prevention efforts in Bangkok, he opened a restaurant called, Cabbages and Condoms. For more on Senator Mechai’s interview, you can go to www.kaisernetwork.org.

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