Former President Clinton has called for strengthening the health care systems of developing countries to better fight HIV/AIDS. Mr. Clinton addressed the 17th International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, where the theme is Universal Action
Just before arriving in Mexico City, the former president visited Ethiopia, Rwanda, Liberia and Senegal, where the Clinton Foundation has health and AIDS-related programs.
"We all come here with a common purpose. We want to prevent new infections, provide care and treatment to all who are infected, support the search for a completely effective prevention and the ever-elusive cure. We all come in the hope that somehow the presentations on this theme, Universal Action Now, will help each of us to determine what more we can do," he says.
Mr. Clinton says underdeveloped health systems in poor countries "limit the reach of life-saving strategies." He says strategies to reduce HIV/AIDS must also include plans to deal with TB, malaria and other infectious diseases. In fact, he says people should automatically be tested for TB at the same time they're tested for HIV infection.
"It doesn't make much sense for us to continue to be asking these men, women and children to go to two clinics, with two doctors and two pharmacies and two strategies to treat one person, who has got enough problems as it is," Clinton says.
He likens the effort to defeat HIV/AIDS to a mythological battle.
"AIDS is a very big dragon. The mythological dragon was slain by St. George, the original knight in shining armor. But this dragon must be slain instead by millions and millions of foot soldiers. Universal Action Now calls on all of us to make the best use of the weapons at our disposal," he says.
He says the latest report from UNAIDS – showing a decline in deaths last year – should convince the world it can face the persistent challenges that remain. These include 2.7 million new infections each year, a 30 percent rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in developing nations and continuing stigma and human rights problems.
"As we think about what to do, let's start with what we know. Treatment and prevention must go hand in hand. We've seen for a long time that the availability of treatment increases the uptake in prevention, including testing, counseling, and education about behavior change," he says.
Mr. Clinton says some current prevention approaches must continue, such as condom use, substitution therapy for injection drug users and increasing male circumcision, which studies show can reduce HIV infection.
Although the HIV/AIDS epidemic is over 25 years old, he says much ignorance remains. And that can cost lives.
"Today, unbelievably, after all these years, 80 percent of the people who are HIV positive still do not know their status. That is 26 million people at high risk of transmitting the virus to others," he says.
The former president adds that universal action on AIDS is blocked not only by inequalities in health care and economies, but also by "widespread and persistent gender inequity and violence."The Clinton Foundation operates a number of programs in developing countries addressing health, climate change, economic growth and development.