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African Ministers Look at Prospect for Continent Free of AIDS

Rome's mayor told African health ministers Friday that new governance on a global scale and a change of priorities is needed to combat the scourge of AIDS in the world. The ministers gathered for a conference titled "A Dream for Africa: Children Without AIDS," organized by the Catholic Community of Sant'Egidio.

Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni said, although it is true that words are insufficient to combat the AIDS pandemic, keeping silent is equivalent to death.

Mr. Veltroni opened the third International Conference on the program, Drug Resources Enhancement against AIDS and Malnutrition, also known as DREAM, at Rome's City Council. Health ministers from 15 African countries attended the event.

The DREAM program was launched by the Catholic Community of Sant'Egidio to fight AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. It began in Mozambique in March 2002. Now its activities are also under way in Malawi, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry and Kenya.

Mr. Veltroni told participants at the conference that AIDS has already caused nearly 25 million deaths, and there are 39.5 million people in the world suffering from HIV/AIDS. More than three million died in the last year, he said - that's 8,000 people a day.

The most serious crisis continues to be in sub-Saharan Africa, where 64 percent of HIV-infected patients live. The mayor said more than half are women, and three in four are under the age of 24.

Among those present at the conference was Professor Brazao Mazula, rector of Maputo University in Mozambique, who described AIDS as an atomic bomb.

He said, "it's an atomic bomb, which kills slowly, which has a multiplying effect and which makes no distinctions. It's a massive atomic bomb, which is destructive and feeds from hunger, poverty and conflicts in our countries."

The Rome mayor said Africa would have no future, if the international community does not address the situation. He says rich countries need to become convinced of the urgent need for change, and vastly increase spending to fight the disease.

Katherine Marshall, personal counselor of the president of the World Bank, said partnerships are absolutely vital.

"If there is one lesson from HIV/AIDS to date, it is that it cannot be conquered, it cannot be addressed alone," she said.

Mr. Veltroni said new governance on a global scale and a change in priorities is needed, with more participation and transparency, greater financing and more concrete actions if an AIDS-free Africa is to be achieved.

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Vatican's Council for Justice and Peace, reminded those present that the program is not just a dream, but an extraordinary work plan.

"DREAM wants to be a response to the cry of pain that is coming from the African continent," Cardinal Martino said.

The cardinal said it is imperative for the entire international community to give a future of hope to Africa. And this, he added, means giving a future of hope and civilization to the whole world.