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21st World AIDS Summit Opens in South Africa

  • VOA News

Civil rights activists march in Durban, South Africa, at the start of the 21st World Aids Conference, July 18, 2016.

Civil rights activists march in Durban, South Africa, at the start of the 21st World Aids Conference, July 18, 2016.

Thousands of researchers, activists and donors have opened a global
AIDS conference in South Africa, to share ideas about the best ways to
treat and prevent the disease.

The five-day conference has drawn more than 18,000 attendees,
including actress Charlize Theron, Britain's Prince Harry and U.N.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

In a speech at the opening of the conference in Durban, Theron said it
is sad that the world has hosted 21 international AIDS conferences
without finding a cure for the epidemic. She decried social
inequalities which she said are driving the spread of the disease.

"We value men more than women, straight love more than gay love, white
skin more than black skin, the rich more than the poor, and adults
more than the adolescents," she said.

Ban told reporters Monday that the gains the world has made against
AIDS are "inadequate and fragile." He noted that more than half the
people around the world infected with HIV have no access to treatment,
about 20 million people.

Retired South African bishop and social rights activist Desmond Tutu
said in a video massage delivered at the conference that the poor are
the hardest hit by HIV /AIDS.

"Catastrophe has an unholy relationship to poverty, to injustice and to discrimination, for the poor, for those who have been excluded," he said.

Thousands of activists marched near the conference venue Monday to
demand more funding to fight the disease. The United Nations recently
announced that it wants to end AIDS by 2030, but activists say more
funding is needed.

"We have set a goal to end AIDS by 2030. And there are four more
international aids conferences between now and then. They must be our
last," Theron said.

The first time the international AIDS conference was held in Durban,
South Africa in 2000, then-President Thabo Mbeki shocked the world by
questioning whether HIV really causes AIDS. Now, South Africa says it
has the world's largest treatment program for HIV.

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates said in a speech on the eve of
the conference opening, "If we fail to act, all the hard-earned gains
made in HIV in sub-Saharan Africa over the last 15 years could be
reversed."

Thuso Khumalo contributed to this report from Durban, South Africa.

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