More than 18,000 scientists, campaigners and donors started holding a major Aids conference in South Africa on Monday, praising progress against the disease but warning that recent gains were under threat.
The week-long conference returns to Africa 16 years after Nelson Mandela galvanised the world to take up the fight against Aids, describing it as “one of the greatest threats humankind has faced”.
Again hosted by the coastal city of Durban, the International Aids Conference is seen as the key biannual gathering of experts tackling a pandemic that has claimed more than 30 million lives in 35 years.
Among those attending this 21st edition are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; activists, including singer Elton John and actress Charlize Theron; and Britain’s Prince Harry.
12M AFRICANS ON TREATMENT
“When the global Aids community last met (in Durban) in 2000, only a few thousand Africans were receiving antiretroviral drugs,” billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates said in a speech on the eve of the opening session.
“Today, more than 12 million Africans are on treatment — more than a quarter of them living here in South Africa.”
But other statistics are less encouraging. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 2,000 young people under the age of 24 are newly infected every day, and almost half of the people living with HIV are undiagnosed.
“If we fail to act, all the hard-earned gains made in HIV in sub-Saharan Africa over the last 15 years could be reversed,” Gates warned, pointing to Africa’s huge young population entering the risky age for catching the disease.