Preparations are underway for the 16th International AIDS Conference, also known as AIDS 2006. It?s being held in Toronto, Canada, in August, and organizers hope to have the biggest attendance ever. VOA?s Joe De Capua reports.

It?s been 25 years since the first reported cases of HIV/AIDS. Since then, more than 25 million people have died of the disease. It?s estimated more than 40 million people are currently living with HIV.It?s against that backdrop that the theme for AIDS 2006 is ?Time to Deliver.? Dr. Mark Wainberg is co-chair of the conference.

?Well, the theme is vitally important. We all agree we need to have (anti-retroviral) drug access throughout the world. And we have promised now, ever since the conference in Durban in the year 2000, that we refuse to live in two different worlds, in which people have access in one and not in the other, meaning the countries of the South. We all agree this needs to be rectified. We?ve been promising this for six years and I think people are holding us accountable,? he says.

Dr. Wainberg compares the HIV/AIDS pandemic to the tsunami that struck Asia and Africa more than a year ago.

?In terms of death, the toll that was taken by those tidal waves happens every single month without fail in regards to HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS is a continuing problem. It?s not something that happens and it?s over,? he says.

This is the third time Canada has hosted the International AIDS Conference. Before Toronto, Montreal hosted the event in 1989 and Vancouver in 1996.

Dr. Wainberg says, ?You know, the conference has evolved over time and we have to recognize this. It is the single most media intensive activity in the entire world in regards to any conference on medicine that is held anyplace. So for one week during the conference the eyes of the world will really be on Toronto in regard to what?s happening in the world.?

AIDS 2006 will be divided into three areas: science, community and leadership.

The director of the McGill University AIDS Center expects more participants than any other AIDS conference.

?I think we have a chance to set a record. I?m really hoping we?re going to hit our goal of 20,000. We had said if we get more than that we?ll probably have to limit registration at 20,000,? he says.

Dr. Wainberg says despite the medical research, to really make inroads against AIDS will require the full support of the world?s political leaders.

The 16th International AIDS Conference runs from August 13th through the 18th