Preview: International AIDS meeting to assess promises made
Dec 3, 2005, 8:58 GMT
Abuja/Nairobi - African leaders will be questioned about progress on a promise they made to fight HIV/AIDS five years ago at the 14th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) that starts December 4 in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and former U.S. President Bill Clinton will be among the guests that will bring together policymakers and scientists to assess progress since African leaders signed the 2001 Abuja declaration.
But the 2005 update by the U.N. programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) noted that despite falling prevalence rates in some regions, the number of people living with HIV globally had reached its highest ever level at an estimated 40.3 million, half of them women.
Sub-Saharan Africa is hardest hit with 25.8 million people living with the disease, 60 per cent of them women and girls. The region also clocked up almost two-thirds of the five million new infections worldwide in 2005, again hitting women most.
The disproportionate prevalence rate amongst women in the prime of their child-bearing years not only goes to the heart of the conference's theme of 'HIV/AIDS and the Family', but also raises the issue of attitudes that keep women unable to negotiate their reproductive rights.
A recent U.S. policy shift also denies U.S. funding to organizations that provide safe abortions, offer counselling or give information on safe abortions in Africa.
According to a U.S.-based advocacy group, the Centre for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the restrictions were found in a November 18 call by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for proposals for HIV/AIDS prevention projects in Kenya.
In Kenya, where abortion is not legal, complications from unsafe illegal abortions are the leading killer of married women in their 20s and 30s, CHANGE said in a statement released on November 23.
'This move will further undermine the ability of reproductive health, family planning and maternal and child health programmes to reach women and girls with life-saving information and technologies for the prevention of HIV at a time when 5 million lives are being lost to HIV/AIDS every year,' said Jodi Jacobson, director of CHANGE.
The United States is a major donor to African HIV/AIDS prevention programmes, and emphasizes abstinence-only programmes, while African countries promote an integrated 'abstain, be faithful and condoms' (ABC) approach.
U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS, Stephen Lewis and HIV/AIDS activists have condemned the Bush administration's stance as unhelpful in bringing down infections in poor countries that rely on donor support for their projects.
Delegates will also grapple with the impact of poverty on families, especially of women who, although the main caregivers in their communities, remain the most vulnerable to infection.
The six-day conference, to be opened by Nigerian president and African Union chairman, Olesegun Obasanjo, is expected to come up with strategies on how to tackle the pandemic from an African standpoint.© dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur