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International AIDS Meeting Opens in Rwanda

An international AIDS conference started in Rwanda's capital Saturday, with officials vowing to work together to stop the spread of the scourge. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Kigali.

Speakers opening the HIV/AIDS Implementers' Meeting lauded what they said were great strides being made worldwide in the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Michel Sidibe, the deputy director of programs at UNAIDS, as the joint U.N. project on AIDS is called, told the gathering that more and more people in developing countries are getting access to AIDS drugs, and that in some cases infection rates are going down.

"Well over 2 million people in the middle and low income countries are now on treatment. In several populations in East Africa, the Caribbean and Asia, HIV infection levels are falling - finally," said Sidibe.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame said that in 2001 his country had 15 voluntary counseling and testing centers. Now there are 256 centers, which have tested 2 million Rwandans.

He said that there are also 138 centers where people can get access to antiretroviral drug treatment, up from just four centers in 2001. Some 40,000 Rwandans are currently receiving antiretroviral treatment. President Kagame shared the credit for these advances.

"These results illustrate what can be achieved by well-coordinated partnerships," he said.

The conference is being sponsored by the World Bank, three U.N. agencies, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Following the conference theme, "Scaling Up Through Partnerships," more than 1,000 participants from around the globe are looking to find ways governments, business, the health care sector and others can collaborate.

U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Mark Dybul told the gathering that those involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS within specific countries and internationally are forming what he calls new partnerships in dealing with the AIDS crisis.

"We are rejecting the old and flawed donor-recipient approach and replacing it with partnership," he said. "Partnership is rooted in hope for, and faith in, people. Partnership means honest relationships between peoples based in mutual respect, understanding, and trust, with obligations and responsibilities for each partner."

He said these new relationships in part have resulted in enabling 2 million people in developing countries to receive antiretroviral drugs, which represents a 20-fold increase in 4 years.

The United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is a five-year, $15 billion initiative to help countries treat and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.