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Global AIDS Conference Wraps Up

  • Suzanne Presto

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton speaks at the 2012 International AIDS Conference, Friday, July 27, 2012, in Washington, D.C.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton speaks at the 2012 International AIDS Conference, Friday, July 27, 2012, in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON D.C. — The 19th International AIDS Conference drew to a close in Washington, D.C., on Friday.

Under the banner of "Turning the Tide Together," more than 20,000 delegates attended the six-day gathering, where speakers ranged from famous entertainers to high-level politicians to people working on the front lines of AIDS research.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton addressed the conference's final session.

He said treating HIV-positive patients in some African countries is less costly than previously thought. His organization, the Clinton Foundation, recently completed a cost study in several African countries, including Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia.

"Treatment costs an average of just $200 per patient per year. That includes the cost of drugs, diagnostic tests, personnel and outpatient costs. There is no excuse for failing to provide treatment to the remaining 10 million people in need."

He also highlighted the logistical challenges of battling HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

"To eliminate mother-to-child transmission, we need to test and treat women earlier and keep them on the treatment longer throughout the entire period of breastfeeding, when many of them live miles and miles and miles from the place where they get their medicine today," he said.

Clinton said he has spoken to healthcare workers who say there is not enough funding for pregnant women and mothers.

The United States says it is donating an additional $80 million to help eliminate mother-to-child infections by 2015.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the conference earlier in the week, saying the United States is committed to achieving an AIDS-free generation.

"We will not back off; we will not back down. We will fight for the resources to achieve this historic milestone."

Researchers at the conference presented findings that highlight the benefits of treating HIV at the early stages of infection. One such study featured a group of HIV-positive patients in France. With early treatment, they could be taken off antiretroviral drugs and show no signs of a resurgence of their HIV infection.

Michel Sidibe, the executive director of the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS said there needs to be more cure research.

"Today we should not just say, 'okay, let us have treatment.' We should say, 'why not a cure? Why not a vaccine?' That is the area where we need to put our energy, and that will bring us certainly to the end of this epidemic," he said.

Activists disrupted sessions and panels to demand greater funding and resources for research and for those living with HIV and AIDS. "We can end AIDS! We can end AIDS!" were among the slogans heard at the gathering.

A conference attendee living with HIV told VOA that he finds the activism invigorating.

"That's what this is all about. It's all about getting up and getting angry again," he said.

The 19th International AIDS conference was held in the United States for the first time in 22 years, after President Barack Obama lifted restrictions on HIV-positive people entering the country.

Conference organizers say there are still 46 countries, territories and areas that impose HIV-related travel restrictions.

The 20th International AIDS Conference will be held in Melbourne, Australia, in July 2014.