The 17th International AIDS Conference opened in Mexico City Sunday with calls for greater efforts to combat the disease and find a cure. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Mexico City, there is an emphasis as well on prevention and treatment in the developing world, where most AIDS victims are found.

The opening of the AIDS Conference took place in Mexico's National Auditorium before an audience that included government officials, AIDS activists, medical professionals and researchers and people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called for greater resources to be used in the worldwide fight against AIDS. He hailed the U.S. Congress and President Bush for recently approving more funds to combat AIDS and other diseases.

"I warmly congratulate the United States government on the new legislation that will allow for $48 billion to be spent on the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria over five years," he said.  "I also welcome the commitment of the G8 to keep working towards the goal of universal access to HIV prevention and treatment by 2010."

Executive director cites progress in fight against disease

The executive director of the U.N. AIDS program, Peter Piot, noted the progress that has been made since the last conference two years ago. He said for the first time since the international effort began, fewer people are dying of AIDS and fewer people are becoming infected with the HIV virus.

But he said much more needs to be done to help people who suffer from the disease.

"In the long run the best way to stop people from dying from AIDS is to reduce new infections in the first place. But, in the mean time, the treatment imperative remains as strong as ever, because let us never forget that this is about people," he said.  "Because this is about entitlement to life."

Hope for young people living with AIDS?

An emotional high point of the opening ceremony was a speech by a 12-year-old girl from Honduras, Keren Dunaway, who is infected with HIV.

Dunaway said young people infected with the virus are like their peers in terms of their aspirations, wanting to have careers and families. She said she wants to be a singer.

More than 22,000 people are participating in this year's conference, the highest ever for an AIDS conference in a developing country.  During the next few days, researchers will present papers on promising new treatments and various activists and health workers will discuss such issues as discrimination against those infected with HIV, the role of sex workers in reducing infections and ways of reducing infection among drug users. The conference continues through Friday.