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Bill Clinton Addresses International AIDS Conference


Former President Bill Clinton says fighting stigma and discrimination and empowering the poor are some of the best ways to fight HIV/AIDS. Mr. Clinton spoke Monday at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto. VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua was in attendance.

Bill Clinton says reaction to the pandemic can either unite the peoples of the world or divide them.

“It is difficult to imagine how the world can grow together and overcome the instabilities and inequalities of global interdependence unless something serious is done to turn the tide on AIDS. Number one. Two, it’s a breathtaking human tragedy. Most people don’t die of it in rich countries anymore. And most people who get it in poor countries do. And it’s unacceptable.”

He says too many people are afraid to be tested for HIV because of the stigma attached to it.

“If there is an aggressive effort against stigma and an absolute guarantee you’ll have the medicine and care you need, then we could have more people know their status. And I think more people would be willing to do whatever’s necessary not to infect others. I don’t see how we’re ever going to catch up unless people are at least aware that they could be giving the virus to other people.”

Some have criticized efforts to provide anti-retroviral drugs to poor countries, unless their health systems and infrastructure are improved first. Others doubt whether the poor could handle the sometimes complicated regimen of taking the medicine.

The former US president disagrees.

“There was yet another study last week which showed that in the poorest African villages people take their medicine at a stunningly high percentage. (Applause) First time we saw this was in Brazil where people didn’t speak Portuguese and all these little villages up in the Amazon valley, they’re all taking it. So, one more time we have driven a nail in the coffin of those who want to patronize the poor. They’ll live if you give them the tools to live. They’ll do just fine.”

Mr. Clinton, in addressing the AIDS Conference earlier, said, “Our collective response to this pandemic…will define us for generations to come.

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