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AIDS Conference Concluding After Debate on Funding

Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist shakes hands with a member of the audience at the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, July 25, 2012.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 20,000 participants are wrapping up the global AIDS conference in Washington, after a week of events intended to invigorate efforts to halt the epidemic. While scientists and international policy makers discussed research and effective governmental programs to help those infected with HIV, thousands of activists spent part of the week demonstrating against what they consider inadequate funding for the fight against the disease.

All week participants discussed medical advances and strategies in the fight against AIDS.

One panel on Thursday was disrupted by protesters calling for increased funding to end an epidemic that has killed around 30 million people since the 1980s.

A vaccine is still out of reach. But researchers say the epidemic can be stopped because people with HIV who undergo treatment are less likely to spread the virus that causes AIDS.

The Thursday panel focused on the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. General Manager Gabriel Jaramillo seemed to agree with the demonstrators, saying it is fine to set intermediary goals.

"But at the end, anybody that is infected by HIV/AIDS has to have treatment," he said. "And we have to have that as our maximum goal and that is what the Global Fund of the next five years is gearing up to."

The question, though, is who will pay for that at a time when the U.S. and other donor countries - that have spent billions of dollars fighting AIDS - face economic crises at home.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been promoting "country ownership," meaning that governments in the developing world should take more responsibility for the epidemic.

More than 34 million people are now infected with HIV. And around 70 percent live in Africa.

This AIDS conference was the first to be held in the United States in more than 20 years. The hiatus was the result of a travel ban on people with HIV that President Barack Obama lifted two years ago.

Watch related video from 2012 AIDS Conference by VOA's Jeff Swicord