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Report Warns of Falling Commitment to Combating AIDS - 2004-03-22

A report released ahead of a global AIDS conference in July is warning of a falling global commitment to combating the disease because governments are preoccupied by terrorism and other concerns. Leaders at the upcoming International AIDS Conference in Thailand are expected to renew calls for a greater political commitment to life-saving anti-AIDS programs.

The International AIDS Conference in July will again try to put the global fight against the pandemic at the center of world affairs. But a new report by conference organizers warns that despite the continued spread of the disease, especially among the world's poor, attention has been drawn away by terrorism, wars and global economic concerns.

South African Gustaf Wolvaardt, an advisor to the conference, told reporters Monday that organizers hope to build on progress made since the Durban Conference held in 2000. That conference helped put pressure on major international drug companies to allow the production of lower priced anti-retroviral drugs. "Most restrictions, the monetary restrictions in terms of society providing access to anti-retroviral [drugs] is being addressed. Now the issues that are going to come up is the political will to roll these programs out and that's what I think the big focus is going to be on," he said.

Over 1,500 delegates, including government officials, non-government representatives, AIDS and health activists, will attend the 15th International AIDS Conference in July.

The World Health Organization estimates 40 million people worldwide, mostly on the African subcontinent, are living with HIV/AIDS.

In Asia, the number affected is up to seven million, although it is in south and Southeast Asia where HIV spreading the fastest.

In India, some 4.6 million people are carrying the HIV virus while in China authorities have been warned unless action is taken the country may face between 10 million and 20 million HIV victims by 2010.

Thailand, viewed by the global community as an example of efforts to curb the AIDS spread, still has a HIV population of about one million people.

But while many still hope for a major medical breakthrough, the outlook appears grim. UNAIDS officials are warning an HIV vaccine could be years away despite drug trials in Italy, Germany and South Africa.

Dr. Wolvaardt said it would take a "radical breakthrough" for a vaccine. "At this stage it doesn't look as if - it literally doesn't look like the science is right. We are probably not going to get a preventative vaccine in the near future unless there is a radical breakthrough in science," he said.

The conference's main goal is to galvanize the world's commitment to fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic.